Diana Kern's Story
Twenty-four years ago, after the birth of my daughter when I was 26, I was diagnosed with a mental illness and hospitalized in Dallas. This was the beginning of 15 years of hospital stays, lasting from a week to more than a year. Treatment teams diagnosed me with everything from postpartum psychosis to schizophrenia.
In the '80s and early '90s, psychiatric medications were ineffective for me and the side effects seemed worse than the illness. During those long years, I lost the desire to live, care for my daughter and have friends. Social Security Disability payments and the generosity of my parents sustained me. Working in the "outside world" seemed impossible.
In the mid-'90s, when effective medications came on the market, I was able to think clearly for the first time in two decades. I felt as if I had been asleep all those years. I began to understand that it was up to me to heal myself.
I made the difficult decision to make friends and become a participant in my own life. I discovered NAMI, became a volunteer and consumer advocate and was able to move into a paid job for the first time, at the age of 43! I began to see my potential for helping others who had struggled. My thoughts and dreams shifted from expecting nothing to expecting recovery for myself and others.
I began working part time for NAMI-Texas in 1999 and moved into a full-time position two years later as special events coordinator. Through my work, I seized the opportunity to advocate for myself and other consumers at the local and state levels. In the past six years, I have built relationships with several Texas legislators and their staff, particularly Senate Finance and House Appropriations members.
I have served as a board member of my local NAMI affiliate for six years and, in 2001, I received a gubernatorial appointment to the Texas Council on Developmental Disabilities as a representative for mental health issues. I am a board member of Goodwill of Central Texas, which affords me the opportunity to help consumers find meaningful work. I speak to many mental health professionals and consumer groups to emphasize the importance of relationships to a healthy recovery.
I am now marketing Expect Recovery! products to share my message of growth and wellness (http://www.expectrecovery.com). My message is that recovery from a serious mental illness is possible. However, consumers must be offered comprehensive care that focuses on wellness and speaks to their potential for a full and rich life.