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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration


Last Updated: 7/7/2008

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)

 

Bill Schneider's Story

I grew up in a normal family, and I was a bright kid—I.Q. of 140, a straight "A" student. But while I was in college, my concentration began to disappear. I began to hear voices telling me that I was nobody, that I was never going to make it in life. My grades dropped from A's to C's. In 1977, I was hospitalized for schizophrenia. I was given electroconvulsive therapy, huge amounts of medication—the whole nine yards. The voices stopped temporarily then, but they weren't gone for good. After my hospitalization, I tried to find a job and make it on my own. But I couldn't take it. The voices would be just terrifying. Eventually I moved back in with my mother, and soon after, was sent to another hospital in Jacksonville, Fl.

I was in and out of the hospital and day treatment for a while, as the voices came and went. Sometimes I felt so good that I was in denial about my illness... until symptoms returned. I was so tired of treatment at that point, tired of the stigma I felt from my own mother and even my psychiatrist. He'd told her I'd be disabled for the rest of my life, and she believed it—neither of them thought that a person with a mental illness like schizophrenia could recover.

I couldn't stand the stigma, so I moved out. My plan was to find a job, but I ended up homeless on the streets in Florida. I had no food, no medicine, and a job working a concession stand. For a while, I was living in someone's garage, and in exchange for the living space, I had to do all kinds of work. When my symptoms became more severe, I was taken to a crisis unit.

This is where my story turns around. For the first time in my life, I was connected with a social worker who helped me get case management, Social Security, clothes, food, and shelter in an assisted living facility. My insecurities about living alone started to go away, and I felt motivated. This was the beginning of my recovery.

I was prescribed newer, more effective medicines, and a drug called Respidol finally made the voices disappear for good. I was able to live on my own in a regular apartment for the first time. I learned basic coping skills from my case managers and friends, as well as from consumer advocates who had experience in the mental health system. They taught me how to advocate for myself. Their help was so important in my recovery process, it made me want to give something back. I started telling my own story to consumers. Amazingly, I found that doing this not only inspired others, but helped my own recovery. The momentum kept building, like an upward spiral.

After 20 years, I finally went back to college. There were case managers who doubted me, who said I shouldn't apply for student loans because I might not be able to get the necessary grades. But in the 1990s, I got my bachelor's and subsequent master's degree in social work and consistently achieved straight A's. At this point I was completely independent. I was off Social Security, off Medicare and Medicaid, off subsidized housing. I now own a condo through a rent-to-own program I created, and that's where I live... with my wife. Did I forget to mention I got married?

Now, I'm the coordinator for the Office of Consumer Affairs in Florida, an office funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families. I supervise peer specialists who are sharing their stories the way I shared mine. When my organization conducts focus groups with consumers, they usually say that it's a little bit of everything that helped them the most. Not just medicine, not just therapy, not just financial stability, etc. It's all important to work on, and it's different for every consumer. Recovery is an individual thing. No one can tell you how to do it—the important thing is to know you can. You have the power and ability to make recovery a reality.

Bill Schneider


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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.