"I'll guide you home with my lighthouse." -- "Lighthouse" by G.R.L.
I am choosing to participate in my 5th NAMIWalk because I envision a world where all people affected by mental health conditions live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives supported by a community that cares and supports them. I believe in hope, support, love and acceptance for people coming together to make the world a better place by continuously choosing to still be in it for the long haul. In the face of adversity, I believe that we can come out the other side stronger, braver and more resilient than ever!
NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness and they've been etched into my recovery journey since the very beginning. I witnessed my first ever In Our Own Voice presentation when I was taking an abnormal psychology course and my professor had asked two speakers to come into the fall 2014 semester. I was sat in the audience, struggling with my mental health for the first time ever, because I had just been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on self-harm and suicide obsessions (note: not genuine suicidal intent, rather distress and anxiety at intrusive thoughts I could not control). I didn't know it then, but it would set everything into motion going forwards.
I took from that presentation not only a physical pamphlet but hope that maybe, one day, I, too, could get better, I, too, could survive the unthinkable, and I, too, could help support others' on their journeys towards recovery and wellness.
By January 2015 I began my journey through the hospitalization sector. In fall 2015 I was attending the OCD-Institute for further treatment. And then, by spring 2016, I found the pamphlet that had been buried in my bedroom and from a prompt in a 365 day journaling book that requested me to jump out of my comfort zone, I contacted NAMI about the IOOV program. What followed suit was becoming a trained IOOV presenter and embarking on a road of advocacy that I still carry on to today. I wound up being trained in March 2016, presenting for the first time in April 2016 at my university, and at the same time began to write publicly about my story, my recovery and my wellness as I navigated through intense symptoms of depression and (what would later be diagnosed as borderline personality disorder) via articles in UMass Boston's newspaper called the Mass Media.
It wasn't an easy, upward trajectory all the time, of course. I still struggled, probably even more than I realized at the time, and I managed to go 9 months free from any hospitalizations until acting on my mixture of OCD and depression, suicidal obsessions and thoughts, caused me to become hospitalized once more. Around this time, I became trained as a Peer to Peer Mentor in NAMI's recovery course.
By 2017, things took a more difficult turn. Through that year I was hospitalized 5 more times, switched and changed around on the medications I was taking, deeply struggling with my mental health and then even receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as a last ditch effort to create stability for myself.
After this, I was able to be stable for 2 months.
But when January hit in 2018, the depression came back worse than ever before. I was in a very, very dark place and ultimately it was that nefarious hope deep within my soul that made me question whether or not my life had to end in the way I was fantasizing about or whether I could change the outcome, that I could change how the story ended. It was with this objective and this trepidation that I reached out for help again. Before this point, I had always been the one to tell on myself to get myself help. This time in my journey I struggled with doing so and yet it was also the best decision I could have ever made.
"It's holding on, though the road's long
And seeing light in the darkest things
And when you stare at your reflection
Finally knowing who it is
I know that you'll thank God you did.
I know where you been, where you are, where you goin'. I know you're the reason I believe in life.
What's the day without a little night? I'm just tryna shed a little light.
It can be hard, it can be so hard, but you gotta live right now, you got everything to give right now" -- "1800 273 8255" by Logic ft. Khalid & Alessia Cara
When I was released from my 12th hospitalization, I returned to the day program "Passages" that I was going to three days a week. In May 2018 I began their Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Intensive program. For a year and a half I tracked my moods and behaviors through diary cards that I completed every single day, went to the groups on Wednesday's where we would review our homework assignments and then be taught a new skill we'd get assigned homework to for the next week. It was during all this treatment, alongside minor medication adjustments that I blossomed into a transformed version of myself.
As time went on, as I like to illustrate in my IOOV presentations, four years ago if I would have dropped my cup of coffee on the floor I would have thought "Man, see, I'm so incompetent, I should just end my life" whereas 2022 me would be like "Well, damn, that sucks. Let me get the paper towels, move this object, etc." Nowadays I engage in more problem solving than taking things super personally. Four years ago if I went into crisis, I would have needed three or four days to recover. Now, when I do struggle (with a recent friendship and breakup ending I've been a bit more symptomatic however I am stabilizing out again, huzzah; I struggle now more with hair pulling and skin picking) with my uncomfortable emotions, they usually pass within twenty minutes if I allow myself to fully feel them without any unhealthy action.
I've learned dozens of DBT skills in my time at Passages. I created my Wordpress blog in May 2016, my Youtube channel in December 2016, my Insta in Sep. 2021 and my two fan fiction related accounts within that general frame of time (I write for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Loki centered Avengers stories.)
All of this is to say that NAMI has always been there for me to hold myself accountable. I've now been 4 years out of the hospital system; the longest time ever for me and making it official that I've been outside of hospitals longer than all the 3 years I was constantly in and out of them! In 2019, I successfully taught a P2P class and will be again in May 2022. When the pandemic hit I became endlessly more creative on my Youtube channel (RecoverytoWellness). As time has gone on I've continued to create and create and make art that I think is so important and vital to be in existence--things that support survivors like myself and those around me. My goal with my recovery art projects is to provide hope, light and peer support and the dream, one day, would be to donate the pieces towards inpatient psych units for others to find hope, strength and the ability to overcome their situations, just as I did all those years ago. I've even been trained, though haven't presented in a while, for the Ending the Silence campaign.
And the psych hospital, Althea, that was such a vital part of my own recovery all those years ago? I now work there. I've been there six months as of April 2022 and I love it so much. It's so interesting and I genuinely feel like I'm doing things that matter. Groups have been so creative and fun to do and I'm hoping with my time re-teaching P2P that I'll also work up on those skills from forever ago and make my work self even better. 💚✨💚
NAMI always provided me with hope, resiliency, change, accountability, responsibility, purpose and a voice. I think having a voice, above all, was the greatest thing I could ever receive from them. I say a lot in my presentations how music and art is an integral part of my journey. I blog, I make videos, I write, I draw, I color, I watercolor, I paint, I scrapbook, I make beaded bracelets, I graphic design, I photograph. It's all an intense juggling act.
Looking forwards: I dream of one day writing and publishing a memoir, a fiction novel, poetry books and art related projects. I have 4 recovery based projects I want to unveil to the world, (#RecoveryHome, Recovery Reinforcer, Recovery Restoration and Recovery Personas), that I go into more within my social media accounts. I want to present at a TEDtalk about my journey. I want to go into public speaking in larger realms. I will continue my work with NAMI, of course. And eventually I want to become a Certified Peer Specialist and a future art therapist. I worked per diem at a trauma informed residential for youth for 2 years before changing to Althea, where I'm infinitely more happy, hopeful about, doing meaningful work with adults and can envision myself being there and working hard for the next 2-4 years.
I have so much more that I want to do, say and experience. I don't think I could have ever envisioned this bright of a future for myself and I have so much to thank for that. NAMI holds an amazing mission that I've fully integrated into my heart and soul, so much so that I don't think I'm as aware of it as I could be. But I am grateful all the same. NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental health conditions. NAMI provides advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental health conditions can build better lives.
All of this is to say, this is just a part of my story and my recovery and my life. I am participating in NAMIWalks Your Way to raise awareness and funds that support free, top-rated programs for our community.
So, after reading all that I had to say, I hope that you will consider donating to me or others for this amazing and gratuitous mission. I thank you endlessly for reading and supporting in any way that you can. Even if that's just to share, that would be amazing.
Thank you soooo much. And as always:
Stay safe, take care and be well. Much love and light to you.
"I can see the lighthouse through the smoke
Everything is lost, I know
Underneath the roaring of the storm
I can hear the breaking of the dawn
Can you see the broken rays of light
Caught into the dead of night
And I know that I'll see you again
Where the shadow ends." -- "Where the Shadow Ends" by BANNERS