For years, Sondra Striker went through a string of psychologists, psychiatrists and medications — all in an effort to “just be normal.”
A native of New York, who was raised in Texas, Striker’s first memory of being in a psychologist’s office and placed on medication was at age 5. At the time, she was struggling amid her parents’ divorce.
From ages 7 to 14, Striker was molested by her oldest brother, and at age 16, she was married and pregnant. Her first diagnosis of mental illness came at age 21 when she was diagnosed with behavioral issues because she was abusing her second husband. Her father had schizophrenia, and Striker always feared that she had the condition, too.
She went on to be diagnosed with sex addiction, then bipolar II disorder, depression, sleep disorders “and just about anything else that you could be diagnosed with.”
“I was married and divorced four times, on drugs, using alcohol and messing my life up in general,” says the Gulfport resident. “I was on so many different medications at various times, I didn’t know what was up or down.”
She entered her third and fourth marriages still grappling with issues from being abused and then being raped at age 20. Her existence became endless rounds of medications, doctors and “trying to do better.”
“Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn’t,” Striker says. “It seemed like things kept getting in my way.”
At age 36, Striker suffered three miscarriages in nine months, and depression held her firmly in its grasp. In 1998, she had an ectopic pregnancy, and her fourth divorce followed in 1999.
“Life couldn’t get any worse,” Striker says, “but I was dating my now husband of 21 years (Mark). I finally seemed to be getting a handle on things, but there was still a lot of work to do.”
The life changes that occurred after Mark retired from the military almost put Striker back in the hospital, and she knew that if she didn’t ask for help, she’d relapse to her mental state of 25 years prior.
“I talked to my husband, and together we went to the doctor, and that’s when things really started to get better,” she says.
At age 49, she officially was diagnosed with cyclothymia — a rare mood disorder that causes emotional ups and downs.
“It was discovered that because I have never been able to sleep well that the manic episodes were brought on by lack of sleep for weeks and months at a time,” Striker says. Her doctor, a fellow Christian, didn’t balk at her feeling that God had his hand on her all her life.
As she fought to get well, Striker first and foremost believed in God and His protection over her.
Additionally, “I figured out that I had to advocate for myself,” she says. “If a therapist, doctor or medication didn’t feel right, I spoke up. I never gave up on me even in the darkest moments.”
Now self-employed as a quiltmaker, the mom to one adult son and three “furkids” is on her lowest-ever dose of medication. Her church family has helped show Striker her value in the world and in the lives of others. She sees a therapist for medication checks and considers herself stable, healthy, happy and living life to the fullest.
She’s held numerous titles in several fields, including food service, customer service and office administration, but says unofficially, her title is survivor.
“There will always be situations where I have to fight to find my equilibrium,” Striker says, “but I have the biggest allies on my side — God, my husband and my belief that I am worthy.”