Alice Tsai's Story
As a Chinese-American, I have always been a high achiever. However, when I graduated from college and had not gotten into medical school or gotten a full-time job, I felt like a failure. I returned to my parents' home to work at the neighborhood Walgreens.
My mother invited me to visit Taiwan with her. Things went smoothly until I started to feel like people didn't like me. Without telling me where we were headed, my mom took me to see a psychiatrist. I wanted nothing to do with mental illness and the medications prescribed.
By the time I returned to the United States , I was having a nervous breakdown. I was in a stupor; I couldn't enjoy the things I used to; I thought about not wanting to live. My thoughts scared me into seeing a psychiatrist at a community mental health center in town. He diagnosed me with major depression with psychotic features. I chose to take about six antipsychotic medications simultaneously. I started going to Intensive Day Therapy and exercising at home. Within weeks, my mom said, I smiled for the first time.
I started going to the center's rehabilitation clubhouse. Eventually I got job coaches and began looking for work. I found and lost various jobs; then my job coach informed me of a position at Stepping Stones, another community mental health agency in town. I applied for the job and interviewed with the agency's CEO. For my second interview, I met with a roomful of clients. By the clients' unanimous vote, I earned the job: I was the agency's first Consumer Representative, a recovery role model and advocate.
Over six years later, I'm still working and also involved in NAMI locally, statewide and nationally. I have attended an international mental health conference in Australia . I have been published in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, New York City Voices, Consumer Supporter News, Rockford Register Star, and Schizophrenia Digest. I have helped plan local, state, national and international consumer conferences and been a finalist for the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award. I love my job and the clients with whom I work. My story truly has a silver lining.