Between the ages of 20 and 27, I was psychiatrically hospitalized on seven occasions. My recovery story started when someone held hope for me when I had none, when someone could dream for me when I could not.
During the time that I was hospitalized I took many different medications. Even though I tested as having genius intelligence, I flunked out of college three times. I also struggled as a temporary worker. I dug ditches, cleaned toilets, and did other similar jobs. Sometimes I was homeless. My hope for a better life ran out. I was certain that no woman could love me enough to endure being with me. But I was wrong.
While in a group home, I met Diana. As a teenager, she was in a car accident with a drunk driver. Her pelvis and femur were broken, and she lost a lot of blood. No one expected her to make it through the night. When Diana slipped into a coma, the doctors said that she might not regain consciousness. Three weeks later, after Diana came out of the coma, the medical consensus was that she might not speak or walk again. Diana is the type of person who doesn’t like being told what she cannot do—she had other plans. Diana survived and re-learned how speak and walk.
This determination in the face of immense challenges inspired me, and I hoped that Diana’s ability to dream could restore the part of me that felt empty. After three years of being friends and dating, we married. Now, sixteen years later I am working full-time to support others in finding their own recovery paths. I am no longer taking psychiatric meds. Since meeting Diana, I haven’t been hospitalized once.
In 1994, we helped provide new leadership of a consumer run drop-in center called ICAN in Lancaster, PA. It grew into a democratically run membership organization. Every employee, as well as the Board members, personally identified with serious mental health challenges—there was no advisory council of “well individuals” monitoring us. We contracted directly with our county, ran our payroll, and wrote our grants. We independently created by-laws, policies, and procedures. We expanded our hours as a drop-in center to six days a week. On most Saturday nights Diana led a dance party. It was an engaging, fun way for spiritually wounded people to enjoy music, explore socialization, and dabble in dating. Unfortunately, after ten years, the program lost its funding.
Now I work as a Recovery Specialist for Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers’ Association, a statewide organization that is comprised of and also serves people with first-hand experiences of mental illness and recovery. In addition to working with individuals and providers, I’m an advanced level facilitator of WRAP, Copeland’s Wellness Action Recovery Plan model. I also run trainings to help people develop their own Psychiatric Advance Directives.
For me, the road to this moment has been long and there have been difficult obstacles. I now realize that love is the greatest healing power on earth.