Now at the age of 51 I have gone through all the stages of my life grappling to understand this illness and how to live with it. In my early teens I learned to disassociate to deal with the world around me. I drifted through high school on the fringe of all social activity. I couldn't understand myself let alone how to maintain a friendship.
I went on to college with the same difficulties until I found an anchor in my faith. I felt I had a constant companion. I excelled in my sophomore year until I was victimized by someone I trusted and shared my deepest secrets with. He then went on to isolate me from the friendships I had build and also my family. I felt I only had him because I believed he lived a spiritual life. What was actually infatuation I thought was love. We married and went on to have four children. The marriage lasted 22 years until I realized he stripped me from everything I believed in and about myself. This sent me on a course of constant hospitalizations and navigating the mental health system meeting with professional after professional.
After the divorce I moved back to my childhood home and sunk deeper into the only identity I had left "a mentally ill woman." I bounced from hospital to hospital and professional to professional waiting for it all to end. I had lost all of my identities.
The spark of faith within me had died long ago but would emerge at the darkest hours. 'My constant companion.' Somehow my constant companion kept the fight within me going.
What I needed was to find a body of people like me; my peers. I needed people who could understand the ubiquitous nature of the illness. Those who understood it on an intimate level. I wanted to talk about my thoughts, experience and feeling with them. Somehow, I wanted validation that "I'm not alone in all the mess I was feeling."
After 14 years of constant hospitalizations, therapies, club houses, programming and day programs I had enough. The overall message I kept on receiving was, the best I could do was maintain my illness and cope with the symptoms as they emerged. I would forever be stuck in a cycle of the mental health system. To me that was a death sentence. Forever treading water, waiting until I no longer had the strength to tread anymore.
In 2011 I began to build Dance in the Rain. In December of 2014 we finally were able to attain our own venue. This was life changing for me. I had a place where I could develop programing that spoke to my peers.
I found and experienced the power of 'peer engagement'. I no longer had to walk through this confusing life alone and misunderstood. From 2005 to 2014 I had multiple hospitalizations. In September of 2015 I finally went a full year without any hospitalizations. It was due to engaging with the peers around me. They understood and yet they also challenged me to grow and reach for more in my life.
My message to you is seek out peers and engage with them. Change is difficult but that is how we grow, become stronger and heal.