The following is an excerpt from Michael Billoni’s acceptance speech for the Courage to Come Back Award from the Mental Health Advocates of Western New York on March 11, 2020:
I thank God and my angels every day for the miracles since my near-fatal bicycle accident nearly 30 years ago. Today, I look upon that life-changing day with appreciation and thanks. It truly opened by eyes to a much greater chapter in my journey.
The miracle surrounding the comeback from my physical injuries has been well chronicled. What has not been public is the comeback from the traumatic brain injury I suffered as a result of the accident.
ECMC and a multitude of prayers saved my life after surviving 17 hours of trauma surgery on September 17, 1992. When I was discharged after 44 days in the hospital, the doctors said I should take the year off from work to rest my brain injury.
I did not follow his suggestion and challenges continued when I suffered a mental breakdown a few years later that led me to being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When the doctor said it was “a mental illness,” I did not hear another word as I remember thinking “you will never mention this to anyone.”
My wife and family, close friends and spiritual advisors knew some of what I was going through, especially the bouts of depression. What they did not know about were my suicidal thoughts and even an attempt nearly 10 years ago.
At this point, Jody Lomeo, CEO of Kaleida Health introduced me to Dr. Mark LiVecchi, DMD, MD, MBA Chief of Service for the Department of Rehabilitation at ECMC. After a series of tests, he said I had a traumatic brain injury, not bipolar and if I followed his direction and continued to pray, I would live a life I only dreamed of.
He was so right and today I plan to use these experiences to help the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition and provide hope to those struggling with depression, mental illness or thoughts of suicide.
All of us can help by not being afraid to reach out and talk to someone who has suddenly gone quiet or would rather stay under the covers than be up and around. Sometimes they just need someone to talk with.
On this journey, I will not be happy until society, the medical profession, and the media treat mental health like physical health.
Michael J. Billoni
Michael J. Billoni, managing partner of Billoni Associates. Billoni Associates is the newest organizational member of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition. Mike can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.