In the spring of 1998, my world came crashing down. I lost my home, my
job, my car, my mind, and almost my life.
I was hospitalized for the first time in March of that year. Diagnosis:
major depression with suicidal ideation. I was put on medication and assigned
a psychiatrist and a therapist. After this first hospitalization I would
fight with myself to stay out, but every eight months I'd be back in the
hospital. The second time was a longer stay, and upon being discharged
I was put on 13 medications.
I decided that my third hospitalization (when I was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder) was going to be my last. Trying to function with the help of
medications, a therapist, and sheer force of will, I was able to stay out
For a long time, I could feel my illness inside my head: a dark little
creature that I had built a wall around. It was waiting for me to let my
guard down so it could escape and wreak havoc. It took a long time for
me to banish this monster, but I am finally free.
The first step toward freedom was when I reluctantly agreed to participate
in a program called "Stepping Stones Clubhouse," and I am forever
glad I did! I came into the program a scared little rabbit; I couldn't
look anyone in the face and had no confidence in myself. With great encouragement,
I reluctantly tried doing tasks on the computer, and I was thanked and
praised for my accomplishments. With time (three years), I began to see
and eventually believe that I was intelligent and capable and that my work
- as well as I - was valued.
A small candle of hope began to burn, and I started to think about going
back to work. It soon turned into a bonfire of belief in myself.
I started work at the clubhouse as a part-time peer trainer, teaching
computer skills. My confidence grew by leaps and bounds. Six years after
being diagnosed with a mental illness, I am now working full time as a
psychiatric rehabilitation caseworker, helping others understand their
illnesses and work towards their own recovery. I am also a mentor and someone
my fellow members want to emulate.
In addition, I am on the Governor's Advisory Committee on Personal Care
Homes and the secretary of the Pennsylvania Clubhouse Coalition. I advocate
for myself and others; and, for fun, I work part-time as a DJ. I am proof
that it is possible to survive and regain a productive life.
The clubhouse has helped me find my voice, and I am active and involved,
as well as more assertive. I am down to two medications: Lamictal, a mood
stabilizer, and Concerta, for ADHD.
I have come through the fire a stronger, better person. I am on my way
to achieving my level of greatness and helping others achieve theirs. With
encouragement and support, everyone can.