Linford Gayle

May 22, 2013
Linford Gayle is the Director of the Office of Consumer and Family Affairs for San Mateo County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. While he currently plays an integral role in advocating for and empowering consumers on a county and statewide level, Linford was not always in such a position. Learn how he overcame a suicide attempt, bullying, and a co-occurring diagnosis of bipolar and substance abuse to help improve the mental health system and change society's views of those who struggle.

Stories of Recovery: Linford Gayle

Transcript: 

I was hospitalized in the 11th grade when I was 17 years old and I had an overdose. I really hate to admit that it was a suicide attempt. It was based around being bullied in high school for being gay and being traumatized at home for being gay. I had all brothers and I was hit and beat up quite a bit too, I guess, toughen me up and I went through a lot of trauma at home and also at school. I just couldn’t escape it.

My name is Linford Gayle and I am diagnosed as co-occurring bipolar disorder. I remember it was snowing that day and there was no school because the snow was so bad in Ohio that we had a snow day. I remember continuously taking these pills and maybe 45 minutes to an hour later I would take another handful of pills. I lost all track of time and it felt like, you know, I would take another handful of pills. The next thing that I knew was that I was in some type of an episode and I ran out of the house. I woke up. When I did come to, I woke up in 4-point restraints in the hospital and I stayed in the hospital for about maybe 10 days. Afterwards, when I got out of the hospital I returned back to high school and by that point everybody had heard about it and now, not only did I have the stigma of being gay, I was carrying the badge of having a mental illness as well and a lot of people seemed like they were afraid of me. Whereas before they were just taunting me for having a jacket as a homosexual but when I got out of the hospital then I had this jacket of being crazy.

I ran away from home and instead of joining the circus, I joined the army. It was to escape the abuse and the trauma that I was enduring and to try to start a life that was fresh. I was never really accepted in my hometown and in my family. I hoped to find a world or a life that I could feel accepted in. Even though I did try to escape my life, I ended up taking myself with me and I ended up in psychiatric treatment while I was in the military as well. So it wasn’t an escape as I had hoped because all of the trauma and all of the abuse had never been addressed so I was just carrying all of this baggage with me everywhere I went. So, my military career was abruptly ended due to the substance abuse and my underlying issues that were never addressed.

My life changed for me when I again did another geographical move. I had returned to Ohio from the military, spent my 20s in a blackout and I ran away to San Francisco to be in a community that was more accepting of me. And I had heard that San Francisco was this gay Mecca and I didn’t realize when I got here that it was only a 6-block radius in the Castro. But you know, that was more than what I had seen in my entire life and I ended up homeless here in San Francisco. That’s when my life changed. When I was living in the homeless shelter, there were staff that were gay and lesbian, counselors, there were some MFTs or LCSWs that were walking around in the shelter that kind of helped the new people coming in and they hired a lot of peers. There were peers that were working the front desk who were clean and sober and who actually talked to you when you came in and you were on their level so you kind of felt comfortable speaking with someone who was six months clean and sober and you were still not. You didn’t feel like you were being talked down to or chastised because your life wasn’t together. And my bipolar diagnosis actually was told to me while I was living in the homeless shelter and seeking services for substance abuse. I actually got clean and sober in the homeless shelter and it’s the funniest thing, while I was surrounded by everybody coming in and out and using constantly, I actually made a conscious decision and asked God to help me with my substance abuse. So I would walk around the shelter with headphones listening to my music and avoiding all the other residents of the shelter so that I didn’t get persuaded to come back out and drink or go back out and use drugs. So actually when I got like 60 days clean was when the symptoms of my illness actually was able to be diagnosed because it was so intermingled with me self-medicating. I understand now working in this field how hard it is to give a diagnosis to someone who is actively dinking and using or on methamphetamines and that drug can make you feel psychotic and act psychotic anyway, to really get a full clean diagnosis.

For me the most important part of me being diagnosed with bipolar disorder was another -ism. I had another stigma to add on to being African American, being gay, and now being crazy. It was just more internalized issues that I had to sit with and really look at myself and say, “You know, these things can’t be as bad as you are projecting in your head.” And having a spiritual basis by that point and trying to really work on myself I was able to accept it. I didn’t like it but I was able to accept it and acceptance is really a big part of moving forward. Once I accepted it, it was an opportunity that I didn’t even realize at the time to actually help others with my story that may have been suffering in silence with the same diagnosis but was too ashamed to mention it or even utter the words. So with me, when I was diagnosed I would go to meetings and I would speak at meetings and talk about my substance abuse as well as my mental health issues. And people would come up to me after the meetings and thank me, genuinely thank me, that I was courageous enough to talk about having both being co-occurring. So that was the part that actually became a blessing. It was an opportunity to feel good about myself and then I realized that other people actually appreciated it.