Following is a transcript of speech that a friend of the agency has prepared and read at recent NAMI speaker meetings and other mental health related events. It is presented with his explicit permission and encouragement – he wants his story heard and hopes that it can help other people who are facing difficulties and challenges in their lives. If you’d like to get in touch with the author, please leave a comment or let us know and we’ll be sure he gets your message.
Hello, my name is Connor. In order to sufficiently explain my story, I will begin by telling you about some of the darkest moments of my life. Then, I will tell you about what my life looks like currently. And finally, I will tell you about some of the things that I believe helped me to get to where I am now.
Where I was
I began using drugs in high school. I found my identity in them. In high school I started smoking weed, and soon began taking pills, OxyContin, and doing coke. I used, and I dealt, and I let drugs take over much of my life. At one point I weighed 150 pounds because I would forget to eat. I dropped out of high school. In 2010, when I was 18, I took a drug called “special K”, and for those of you who are familiar with this drug, I found myself in a “K-hole”. This was how my drug-induced psychosis began. I started to hear voices, and I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. In most of the time since my diagnosis I have been in and out of different hospitals and institutions like 3 different PHFs (Psychiatric Health Facilities) 20 different times, 2 IMDs (Instintutes for Mental Disease) 3 times, long term facilities, Crestwood (San Jose and Bakersfield). I spent 67 days in jail for smoking bath salt and attacking someone. In early January 2015 I felt that my life was getting so out of control that I tried to take my own life my cutting by neck with a pair of scissors while I was staying at Crestwood Bakersfield. Afterwards I was scared that I could no longer control myself. When my Mom came to visit me I asked for extra guards to be present so that they could protect her from me.
Where I am now
That is where I was, and this is where I am now. I have recently graduated from Crescend Health’s Mountain House program. I successfully obtained section 8 housing, and I now live independently in my own apartment. I have been sober now for four and half years. I have lots of medications that I take every day, some are controlled substances like Ativan, but I don’t abuse them. I only take them in the way that they are meant, and I don’t care about whether they’ll get me high or not. Instead of looking for what I can get from people – their drugs or money – I look for what I can do to help people. I quit smoking cigarettes. I have a good relationship with my family and I see my mother several times each week. I have vastly improved my football throw. I am now taking English Writing at Santa Barbara City College. I receive praise from my teachers for the effort that I put into my schoolwork. I keep in touch with old friends of mine. I care about real issues in the world and I pay attention to politics. I have great insight into my diagnosis now. I understand my voices and how they affect me. I have a stable medication regimen that I prioritize. I have people in my life that support me. I am open about my life and my struggles. I always try to do the right thing. I am thoughtful, caring, nice, hardworking, insightful, optimistic, a good friend, and I’m single [wink].
How I got here
Now you know where I was, and where I am now. “How I got here”, that’s the question I’ll answer next. A lot of things happened to get me to where I am today. I want to start off with my Mom. She has always been there for me. She would be a friend for me when I had no one else, she would give me money when I had none. She has never, ever, given up on me, even when it seemed like she did give up on me at the time. She wouldn’t let me come home after getting kicked out of sober living houses, not because she wanted me to get hurt, but because she cared about me and wanted me to learn from my mistakes by facing the consequences. She did everything she could to make me a good kid.
But I wasn’t always with my Mom. I’ve been in and out of different facilities, hospitals, and even jail. I was in jail for over sixty days, and I never want to go back. I saw darkness, hatred, violence, prejudice, aggression, despair – darkness surrounded me in jail. I was definitely scared straight, and I will do whatever it takes to stay away from the prison system.
Outside of jail I stayed in two Crestwood mental health facilities – one in San Jose, and one in Bakersfield. A few people from these facilities stand out in my mind as being particularly helpful to me. A man named Wade from the Bakersfield clinic sticks out to me. Wade suffered from polio and was restricted to a wheelchair. He was a peer support guy, and he would go out of his way to ask me questions about myself. At the facility we weren’t allowed to watch the news because of how it would negatively affect certain clients there. Wade knew that I was interested in the news and politics, so he would talk to me about what was going on in the world. Another woman from Bakersfield named Sherry also really cared about me. Sherry was the director of education there, and she would take me out for meals where it would be just us two. She treated me like her son and would pay for my meal with her own money. She would ask me questions about my life and about what I was interested in. She cared about my thoughts and wanted to hear them. At Bakersfield I learned to accept my illness, and from there I was able to finally begin improving my life.
Some of the time people can get psychiatrists that seem to not really care about them. I got lucky and found one that did care about me. His name was Dr. Gilwald and he worked with me when I was staying at Crestwood Bakersfield. He would go over everything that was going on in my life. I was able to have a conversation with him every time I visited him. I could tell that he wanted to be there, helping me.
In Santa Barbara I attended County Health Clinic groups. There, a man named Francisco helped me to understand the potential that I had. He gave me confidence. With him I was able to talk about where I was with my illness. I was able to explore where I was at. I realized I had so many people around me that were there to help me. After meeting many other people suffering from mental illnesses at the clinic, I didn’t feel so alone with my struggles.
I’ve also spent time living at Mountain House and Phoenix House. I recently graduated from Mountain House, but it wasn’t my first time there. Several years ago I couldn’t make it through the program, but they gave me a second chance and I made the best of the opportunity. At Mountain House I always felt supported by the staff. They would ask me about whether or not I was hearing voices, and I felt comfortable talking about anything with them. Lilia, Jake, Emily, Shelby, Alison, Steffany, Nya, Gerry, Lisa, all the staff there cared about me. In my experience with mental health workers, there are definitely some that obviously don’t care about what they’re doing, but that wasn’t the case at Mountain House.
Hopefully now you can understand a little bit about myself. I have story upon story, and if you have any questions you want to ask me, please feel free to talk to me afterwards.