It was Easter morning 1987 when I found myself sitting alone on the floor of a bus station in New York City. I had no money, no home, no job, no food, no family, no friends and no God. I was 22 and had been using alcohol, street drugs and food to self-medicate since I was 12. That Easter morning was the result of a life spiraling out of control for reasons I did not understand. I was finally hospitalized after a suicide attempt and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I returned home to Southern California, mentally beaten and barely alive.I had been so unhappy, gained 100 pounds, and couldn’t keep a steady job or relationship. Upon returning to California, I was re-diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 1997, after being misdiagnosed for over a decade. My medications changed, and when I joined a NAMI Connection group, my life began to change as well.I found a community of people living with mental illness when, for first time, I was surrounded by others who were going through similar situations.
Finally, I wasn’t alone. NAMI Connection sparked something in me. When I saw that others who were living with mental illness could have such a positive impact on my life and the lives of people in my community, it sparked a desire to share my story and make a difference. I decided to take the trainings to become a facilitator.I now facilitate two NAMI Connection groups and share my story through NAMI In Our Own Voice. I also work as a Peer Support Specialist and facilitator at Mariposa Clubhouse, a community-based program in California for people living with mental illness. Sharing my story of a lived experience with mental illness through NAMI programs gives me a new take on life. I find hope in sharing my story because I know the difference that it makes; I have been on the other side. I have been hospital free since 2010, and my life now includes healthy habits, strong faith in God, support and sharing joy with friends and my community - a far cry from that New York City bus station.
NOTE: For information about meetings or training for these programs, contact the NAMI office (433-0219).NAMI Connections is a weekly or monthly support group for people living with a mental health condition.NAMI In Our Own Voice provides training to make a presentation to promote awareness of mental illness and the possibility of recovery.NAMI Peer-to-Peer a recovery education course open to anyone experiencing a mental health challenge. The course is facilitated by someone who has lived experience with mental illness and is in a state of recovery.