Sam Harris's Story
At the age of 14, I started having serious hallucinations and blackouts. I'm half African American and half Native American, and I didn't try to get help because, in both communities, they called that "going to the white man." But I became an outcast, because my symptoms got so bad that none of my friends wanted to have anything to do with me.
Instead, I lived with these symptoms for four years. My mental illness got so bad that I couldn't cope with school and they asked me to leave. I went to Miami to live with my father, but he threw me out; and from the age of 15 until I was 18 I lived on the streets of Miami, with constant hallucinations and delusions.
At 19, I joined the military. But I was still sick and, after basic training, they gave me an honorable discharge and directed me to get mental health treatment, so I did. After taking medication and seeing therapists, I went back to work two years later, as a cook. Four years after that, I got an associate's degree from the Restaurant School of Philadelphia and became a chef.
I worked as a chef for about 15 years. But there was a lot of stigma around mental illness in the restaurant business. Every restaurant I worked at, I saw other people disclose about themselves and they wound up being badly harassed and losing their jobs. So I hid my illness.
In 1995 I started working part time for the Chester City Consumer Center . After attending the Center for six months, I had asked the director if there were openings and she said she had wanted to hire me for the last six months. I'm still at the Center, now as its director, and it will be 10 years in November. Working with the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is out there advocating for consumers, has helped me. Until I started working here, I felt like no one really cared.