Alumna battles illness, writes memoir

Katie Mara

Often, stereotypes of the mentally ill imply that their diseases interfere with their success, but NMU alumna Faye Joy Shannon halts these rumors with her published book, “Manic by Midnight.”

Published in 2000, the book chronicles the author’s remarkable recovery from a diagnosis of manic depressive disorder in 1995 to the realization that she can still live a joyous life. The book encircles the author’s abuse-induced illness and the resulting events. Also known as bipolar disorder, the illness causes drastic shifts in a person’s mood, energy level and functionality.

“My story had to be told,” said Shannon. “The description of mentally ill makes others feel you are untouchable.”

The author’s father is a World War II veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, who often physically abused both Shannon and her sister. Her sister was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Despite poor circumstances growing up in the Marquette area, Shannon was admitted to NMU, graduating in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in social work. In 1981, she received a masters degree in social work from Michigan State University.

In reference to the sisters’ troubled relationships with their father, Shannon said, “It is part of what mental illness is about –– being mistreated.”

She married and later became a medical social worker. While married to an emotionally abusive spouse, Shannon’s employment provided her with the opportunity to help others.

“I was a powerhouse at work, solving others’ problems, but when I revealed my illness, most did not know what to say,” said Shannon. “Some were kind, some shared harsh words and some ignored the situation entirely.”

An active social life can aid those suffering from a mental illness while also providing awareness for their disease.

For Shannon, such a relationship took shape in her contact with her friend Jackie. “Her friendship over all these years has really meant a lot to me. She never forgot a birthday, never forgot Christmas,” Shannon said.

Shannon and Jackie came into contact during their high school years and have remained close since. Both women never let the distance, Shannon’s various changes in location or diagnosis impact their friendship in a negative way. Instead, obstacles made their bond stronger.

Jackie said, “Mental illness is still shoved in the closet. It took a lot of courage for her to write this book. Whenever you expose your disease, people think of you as just a mental illness. Often, you just want to be normal … but really, what is normal?”

Now, nearly a decade after her book was released, Shannon’s life has not lessened its pace, with a diagnosis of Graves’ disease in 2009 and a recent divorce. Graves’ disease can be described as general overactivity of the thyroid gland.

Shannon describes her book as “a message of hope,” with a plea to those suffering from the physical symptoms of depression to seek a help. Expressing concern for experienced health problems to a general physician can lead to a recommendation to a psychiatrist, confirming or silencing fears of having a mental illness.