I no longer feel the need to remain
silent about who I am.
I do not remember exactly when I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but I think that it was in the first grade. So mental health treatment has been a part of my life since I was relatively young. Despite my ADHD diagnosis, I don’t remember my mental health being a true barrier to my wellbeing until I began high school.
In my teen years, I began to feel more and more out of control - but I believed that my experiences were a normal part of growing up. I only slowly started to realize how much my emotional health was negatively impacting my life. For instance, I wasn’t able to shake off arguments with friends and family. A disagreement with a friend wouldn’t ruin my day – it would ruin my entire week. I started to notice that I would fixate on any bad thing that happened to me. I would become very angry and started lashing out at friends and family. I stopped caring about schoolwork. I felt like a failure and like my world was ending. I just focused on getting through the day. I would do anything that I thought would help me feel like I could survive that moment, and I stopped worrying about who I hurt in the process. I didn’t feel like I had a future, and by the time I was a senior in high school the only thing I was worried about was when the police were coming to find me. No one ever asked me how I was feeling. I was just written off as a bad kid.
As a young adult, I was living on my own but I was not taking care of myself very well. One day, I was sitting hungry in a dark apartment – since I had not paid my electricity bill and my lights didn’t work and my food had spoiled – and my mom called to say that she would buy me dinner if I came to a meeting with her. I really didn’t want to go, but I was hungry, so I reluctantly agreed.
My mom works in the mental health field, and the meeting she took me to was a community meeting about what should happen to people when they were being discharged from inpatient mental health care. As I was listening to the group of professionals discuss what people like me should do, I realized that I had insight into the topic that the others in the room did not have. I shared that I felt that I had little control over my life, and that it was hard to hear people casually taking away even more control from me. I shared that I didn’t choose to be depressed, so I felt that I needed to be able to make other choices – to feel that I had some control over my life. And something awesome happened. The professionals in that room seemed really interested in my perspective. I learned in that moment that I could use the negative experiences in my life to help improve the lives of others. I saw that I had value.
I committed myself to getting better so that I could help other people. After what seemed like ages of staying silent and letting my past dictate my future I realized that I had a voice. I was able to look at my journey and realize that all was not lost. I was not just a “troubled kid” with mental health issues. I was someone who has an illness that I can use to my advantage. I mattered.
Before long, I was working with other young adults as a Certified Peer Specialist. I support young adults by providing guidance in their recovery journeys, and in supporting them in finding their voice and advocating for themselves. I don’t need to pretend that my negative experiences didn’t happen or that they don’t matter. But what matters most is finding hope when life seems hopeless, because I know that if I can do this then the youth I work with can do this too. While my journey is far from over I, with the help of others, have been able to build supports around me. I can rely on friends, family and even coworkers to offer support when I find I’m having a rough time. I no longer feel the need to remain silent about who I am.
Nothing is impossible. The words themselves say "I'm Possible."
For as long as I could remember, I’ve had lots of system involvement. By the age of 9, I was removed from my parent’s custody with only the clothes on my back and the hope that maybe life could be better. When I was first diagnosed at the age 17 with Depression and PTSD, it was a very lonely and scary time for me, due to my childhood experiences I had difficulty trusting adults in my life.
For the first time, at age 20 I went inpatient and I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't scared. I was overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions. While I was there we had to attend group therapy with everyone on the unit. A woman shared a story similar to mine and still struggled with her recovery as an adult. It was at that very moment, I promised myself that I would do everything I could to begin my recovery.
Afterwards, I went from inpatient to a crisis residential program. While in this part of my journey, the people I met taught me new coping strategies and more importantly encouraged me to educate myself about my mental health. I was then fortunately introduced to the TIP program (Transition to Independence Program).
For the first time my TIP Facilitator kept the conversations very light, strength based and future focused. Though she acknowledged I was really struggling emotionally at the time, she didn't for a split second doubt my potential, by asking me what I wanted for my future, it was the first time anyone had ever asked me what I wanted for my life. Although it was extremely overwhelming it was hopeful all at the same time. My TIP Facilitator was very kind and nonjudgmental, therefore she felt real to me, like someone I could relate to as a fellow person. She was really enthusiastic and seemed to be excited about working with me, which again gave me that much more hope. She never made me feel like I was defined by my past and that I had the power to refine who I wanted to be. More importantly, she reassured me that I wasn't different, my feelings were common and that I wasn't alone.
Most importantly, she taught me to advocate for myself. She provided me with a unique and friendly approach in supporting my decisions and teaching me that nothing is impossible. The words themselves are saying “I’m Possible”. I shared with my TIP facilitator numerous times that I had a passion to give back in some way and help others, so she sat down with me and together we explored the process of becoming a Peer Support Specialist. After working on the process of applying, I successfully took the Peer Specialist course in Bucks County in 2013.