Narrative, mental health, recovery, illness, hope, supportive programs, homelessness
| The man sat on the curb of the sidewalk in the burning midday sun. His animated movements and the earnestness in his voice reflected the intense concern of his conversation. “But the sun’s rays always block the interstellar movements of the death gun!” he shouted. People walking by would glance and fixedly stare ahead as they hurried their step. The man determinedly resumed his conversation after a brief silence. “Well you just don’t know how big the problem can be,” he stated to his phantom listener. As I waited on the city bus bench across the street, I studied the man’s disheveled appearance. A dirty backpack lay near him and I watched as he removed a crumpled bag of tobacco from one of its zippered pockets and started to roll a cigarette.
I reflected back to the time when I was hospitalized with a severe psychosis. For over two days I argued, fought, and interacted with a diverse host of people in my apartment. When the neighbors called the police, I was naked in the backyard, taking a shower with the garden hose, and carrying on a conversation with two non-existent acquaintances. The staff at the psychiatric hospital gave me a shot of an anti-psychotic drug. When I woke up the next morning, the psychiatrist began to gently persuade me that all that I had experienced and reacted to in my apartment was in fact, not real. My memory remains to this day, fifteen years later, of the people I met and associated with that were a total fabrication of a psychosis. That is where a person cannot judge what is real from what is not.
My journey has often faltered and I have traversed many avenues on the road to my recovery. I have been completely surrounded by people and yet, totally alone. I have been in hospitals, jails, treatment centers and mental health facilities. I have heard loud voices, unusual noises and haunting sounds when no one was there. I have been so deeply and darkly depressed about life that I tried to hasten my death. I detested having to rely on medications to function normally. At times I used to feel weak, isolated, and different. I have since then come to realize the effectiveness and importance of the use of medications in treating mental illness. But I have progressed and recovered far more from participation in what is known as a “psychosocial program”.
Three years ago, I began to attend a psychosocial program. This program has been a deep strength for me in my recovery. Being able to interact in group situations with my peers, has taught me and given me the chance to share with others the valuable support systems used in our life experiences. For example, coping and learning about depression in groups of my peers has given me not only an understanding of depression itself, but how it affects the lives of others. It has always been extremely hard for me to recognize and accept my mental illness. To talk about it in a group situation would have been unthinkable several years ago. But through the process of watching others struggle and reveal their downfalls and coping strategies with a mental illness, touched me with a sense of empathy and respect for their willingness to share. Their courage to reach out. It is an infectious type of courage that often compels one to want to participate. In this participation is a healing process.
My local Mental Health Center offers a Supportive Education Program that is sponsored by the University of Kansas. Part of this program was a Student Success class that prepares clients for a post secondary education. I had successfully attended college many years ago before the onset of my illness and lifestyle forced me to drop out. This class, which was held at Washburn University, helped to convince me that I could successfully return to college. It gave me the confidence I needed to motivate myself into achieving and someday completing a formal education. I completed the Student Success class in the spring of 2007. Nervous and unsure when I started, I was amazed at some of the changes since my long absence from college. I have often wondered in my life how much not having a goal to work toward kept me in the bad stages of my illness.
Education in itself is a powerful motivator for me. I graduated from the Consumers as Providers program in December of 2007 and learned not only how to be an effective peer counselor, but also how to apply the training and information to my own life in the recovery process. In September of 2007, I enrolled as a full-time student at Friends University where I successfully achieved my Bachelors of Science degree. The work load and the goals that I set for myself are difficult if not impossible without the support and encouragement from my friends.
I still struggle at times and in many ways my life has become more complicated. But I can feel a forward momentum through my recovery that I feel is enhanced through a sense of togetherness and a sincere belief in the recovery of others. I truly enjoy advocating on behalf of my peers, and have written letters of concern on several occasions to the Topeka Capitol Journal and the county commissioners regarding mental health issues. I also joined and I am an active volunteer for N.A.M.I.-Kansas.
As the bus rounded the corner, I took my pack of cigarettes, shouted “Hey!” and tossed them to the man across the street. He surprised me by catching them, and we exchanged a silent look as the bus stopped. When the bus pulled away, I looked back at the man through the window, staring until the bus turned the corner and he was lost from sight. I mouthed a silent prayer for those, for us, on the road to recovery.