Fixing My Mental and Physical Health

Jeff Irving, a former auto technician, is now starting a website called My Wellness Project. He plans to open a community center where people can teach one another self-care skills. He is also the president of Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – Maine. He spoke with Kat Friedrich, CCSME’s social media and internet marketing consultant, about his life experiences. 

I was in the auto repair business for 18 years. In that career, I wound up in a severely depressed state of mind and ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. When I was diagnosed, I was told by all kinds of professionals: “You’ll never have a full time job again. You’re a person with a mental illness, you’re going to need medication and services, and the stress of running a business isn’t going to be very helpful.”

They convinced me to sell my business. I watched $100,000 disappear in four hours. It baffles me to this day, the advice you get from medical professionals when they don’t know your life history and what you’re capable of.


Citroen (Source: stock.xchng)

I hated the business. I was standing there in my shop with my door closed, thinking: “Why am I here?” My passion for it just died out with the job.

I entered the world of “I can’t” when I was diagnosed. I never grew up that way. I was always, “I can. I can do this if I want to.”

The medical model took away that aspect of me. When they started saying “depression” and “mania,” that got me off the trail. I don’t think I was depressed. I think I was full of “I can’t keep doing this.”

They had me on eight psychotropic medications. Five different visits to the most expensive hotel in the city, the psych ward. They kept saying the “I can’t” side of this. They kept saying, “You can’t do this alone.”

A nurse offered me pills in the hospital. I said, “I’m here because of those damn pills.” They said, “You’ll have withdrawal symptoms.” I said, “Look, I was a crack cocaine addict. I don’t think these little Clonopin pills are going to help me.”

If you won’t take any pills, they don’t want you in the hospital because you aren’t adhering to a treatment plan. I’m not a big fan of the treatment plan. They just want me to sign on the dotted line.

I don’t like people telling me what I should do. I did it cold turkey. It cleared my body up of all these toxins. I’d had these mood swings since I was a teenager. I’d never been psychotic. I’d never been depressed and laid around for a week. I’d had some life situations that were astronomical and unbearable to deal with. It was a gradual thing. One challenge landed in my world, and then another came behind it, and then a third one. I just lost faith in myself. I don’t think I was depressed in the clinical sense.

That whole process gave me the mindset that someone’s going to have the information that’s going to make it all right for me. It puts you in the mindset that someone out there is going to help you. But there’s no magic pill. All my problems are inside me.

That’s when I jumped back into my auto repair. There’s so much in relation to automobiles that it isn’t even funny.

I’m an auto repair guy. I can’t call the guy down the street and say, “How do you fix this thing?”

Cars are very much like human beings. It’s a challenge. Someone drops off a car and they can’t figure it out. The thing isn’t running right. What do you do about it? It requires a diagnostic process, asking the titleholder, and taking a lot of good notes before you look at the car.

I was in a specialty high-tech computer controlled shop and a lot of the cars that came to me were from shops where they didn’t have that equipment. I kept going from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, pill bottle to pill bottle, and therapist to therapist, and my car was running exactly the same way. That’s why I jumped back in the driver’s seat. I wasn’t a passenger on my path toward wellness.

Now, I’m on the other side of the coin from the medical-model world. I haven’t had any type of medications for over three years now. I think a lot of experiences in the medical-model world create a relationship of need. You need this service and you need these pills.

My medicine right now is food. I’m eating mostly all organic food. Back in my shop, if someone brought me a car with five gallons of kerosene in it – the car ain’t going to run right if you don’t put the right things in the gas tank. 75 percent of Americans are more toxic than the beef that people are eating. The stuff I’m eating out of the grocery store is chemicals.

That’s when I stopped having the excessive mood swings – when I stopped filling my body with all these toxins. It does cost me a little more, but only at the register. In the last two years, my prescription drugs cost $5.98. Probably 80 percent of what I eat is organic. My meat and animal product intake is 5-10 percent. I can’t remember the last time I had a hamburger. I eat mostly salads and fruits, raw stuff. I love bacon, but I don’t eat it five times a week. Maybe once a month.

bowl of salad

Salad (Source: stock.xchng)

I lost 60 pounds when I started. I couldn’t see my shoes. I watched a documentary called The Gerson Miracle which recommends a cure for cancer. It’s plant food-based, whole grains, starches. No milk, dairy, cheese, meat. Stay away from the processed stuff.

How can you expect your engine to run if you put crap in the gas tank?

There’s all kinds of services for crisis analysis. Why can’t we spend some money up at the top of the cliff? To me, that’s a proactive approach.

I’m constructing a webpage and am trying to open up a center here in town. My webpage is called “My Wellness Project.” There’s a ton of people out there who are obese and overweight who, with a few changes in direction, could lead a healthier life. That’s my journey right now: to open a wellness center here in town where the focus is on proactive wellness. Not reactive.



  1. Ilene Berman wrote:

    Jeff – Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is very moving as well as encouraging. Best of luck opening “The Wellness Center” What a fantastic idea and well needed. I completely changed my attitude after going to your DBSA group on Monday nights at the Dana center for many years,and your “Pathways to Recovery” (wellness) group. If I can assist you
    please write. You have helped me to help myself with my illness in so many ways and now I am a CPSS helping others to help themselves. It will be hard work, but I know you can succeed.- Ilene

    Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink
  2. Jeff Irving wrote:

    Ilene, what a wonderful story you have of your own journey. I am impressed with the work you have done that has led you to your very own path towards wellness. You deserve the life you desire and you are out there making it happen so great job yourself as I am proud of what you have accomplished. If I can get the funding I will certainly need help with my vision of this Wellness Project and having you on board would be very special for me and others…thanks so much for the kind comments…

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 8:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Howland Bickerstaff wrote:

    Hey, Jeff
    Blast from the past! Howdeee! Glad to hear you’re doing so well! What a delight to see and hear the change you have brought about in yourself and the help you have offered to others through self-care and good food!
    I have done the same thing myself, although my meat intake is a bit higher. I try to by grass-fed organic meats, and eat organic fruits & veggies wherever/whenever possible. I occasionally have a little organic yogurt and good frozen organic blueberries, blackberries or strawberries with my protein shakes, but it turns out that the shake powder itself is a good organic one with lots of probiotics already in it, so if I skip the yogurt it’s no big thing… I try much as possible to eat organic and to avoid processed foods, which only serve to contribute to high blood sugar, higher cholesterol and inflammation. I also utilize a good barley grass powder that helps to keep my system a bit more alkaline, and use water filtered through an excellent system at home. I even have a filter on my shower head that removes chlorine from the water, because our skin is the largest organ of our body and it needs good care too…
    Wishing you all the best with your blog. Keep on keepin’ on, my friend! And oh yeah, keep eatin’ that kale!

    Love & Blessings, Howland

    Monday, April 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink
  4. Jeff Irving wrote:

    Hey Howland my ol music buddy…sounds like you are very proactive in what you are willing to put in your own gas tank…(your stomach) I think that is great and I bet you feel a lot better as a result. Imagine how much lower our total health care costs would be if we as a nation actually focused on wellness and even invested more funds in things that led us toward a path of wellness. My journey through the medical world of being a person with a mental illness with the focus on just the illness led me to more of that…being I became more ill the more we spent time focusing on that…now I spend way more time on wellness and guess what happened…I became more well…imagine that…hey great hearing from you Howland, maybe we’ll see each other on stage sometime soon…

    Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 3:08 am | Permalink
  5. Tammy Ryan wrote:

    Jeff, your story and courage is inspiring. I was reminded of two favorite quotes-
    “The I in illness is isolation, and the crucial letters in wellness are WE” (author unknown) and “be careful about reading health books. you may die of a misprint” Mark Twain, of course 🙂
    If you have your webpage started, would love if you would share the link.
    To good health!

    Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  6. Ruel wrote:

    Being a new mom that’s back into the college scene again after just haivng a baby, I joined the challenge so that 1. I could get my body back into shape and 2. build a sense of comaraderie with the other students and faculty members who are participating as well. Like the guy says, it’s so great to just get your heart rate up everyday and breathe the fresh Portland air

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink