“I can only say I have been through a spiritual transformation. A snake slips off an old, useless piece of skin and I too discarded a part of myself, the victim.”
Contact info: New Haven Connecticut USA
Currently doing: Victoria now works as an operator for a local warm line. She also is a student and enjoys writing.
Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Shock, Psychiatric Drugs
Psychiatric labels: Schizoaffective Disorder
Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Trilafon, Cogentin Present- Lithium, Prozac, Olanzapine, Ativan
Recovery methods: Self-Help, Peer Support, One-on-One Therapy, Diet, Exercise, Psychiatric Drugs, Social Activism, Spirituality, Literature, Consumer-run groups, Family/Friends, Journal writing
Greatest obstacle: Stigma and alienation from siblings and extended family; Misunderstanding in the world for not being part of the mainstream, full-time workforce; Feeling different from the norm.
Though I didn’t have my first actual break from reality until I was twenty years old and a Junior in college, I remember as a child having exaggerated fears of concrete things. Going to the doctor to have a shot terrified me. Breathing the antiseptic smells, including rubbing alcohol was like ingesting poison into my body. I feared dogs, cats, horses. I feared deep water. I could not even stand near the edge of the deep end of a pool without fearing that I would be sucked into a limitless abyss. Once, my uncle laughed off my fear and threw me in.
My family was clueless and insensitive to my fears.
We went to the beach on the weekends and the crashing ocean waves terrified me. I remember one day, my dad dragged me jokingly by the feet into the frothy, tumultuous sea as I kicked and screamed the whole way.
When drunk, my dad had a violent temper. He was a loner who couldn’t withstand the stress of life. Once, he packed the four of us kids in the car and speeded down the highway at 100 miles per hour.
My parent’s divorced when I was fourteen. I visited him and saw that he lived in squalor: a dingy, filthy apartment with newspapers strewn about the floor and ripped, stained furniture.
At l9, I felt pressure to keep up my grades in college classes and the sexual demands from boys who wanted to sleep with me. When I finally gave my virginity to a boy I had just met, he told me afterward that he had no feelings for me. I was crushed and had my first thoughts of suicide. I became very sick soon after that and was hospitalized after being diagnosed with encephalitis, hepatitis and mononucleosis.
Though I almost died that summer, I did recover and began life as a Junior transfer student at the University of Vermont. The year was one of panic, darkness, imagined physical ailments, and loneliness. I finished my first year but began an abusive relationship with a man from the country of Qatar, near Saudi Arabia. Piling on one stressful thing after another, I began to feel like things around me were unreal and distorted. My state of consciousness would slip and slither about. I would be sitting talking with someone for several minutes, then wonder how I got there, and finally “waking up”, feeling extremely self-conscious.
That summer, living with my boyfriend, I couldn’t function. I couldn’t eat. I was up half the night wretching, even with dry heaves. I slept during the day. I wanted to die. One day, I looked in the phone book desperate for help and called a psychiatrist.
I met with him and he put me in a hospital and gave me medication that put me to sleep for a week. It was a temporary escape, but ultimately, fruitless.
Somehow, I was able to get it together to spend a semester in Spain in the fall. It was a hazy, psychotic time, like being trapped in a funhouse filled with mirrors distorting images of myself. But, I made it through with the help of my roommate who told me to hang in there and to see a psychiatrist when I return to the states. I clung to this hopefully.
Back in the states, I met with a social worker and began taking an antidepressant. It made me manic. I studied all night long without sleep and pulled all my eyebrow hairs out. But, I managed to finish college and graduate in l983.
Two years passed with no major episodes of depression or psychosis until l985 when I moved in with my Dad in Florida. Illness took over again. I began seeing a therapist who evaluated me by giving me inkblot tests and having me describe stick figures.
I needed compassion, kindness and the right medication. I needed to feel safe. I thought by checking myself into the psychiatric ward of the mental health center for a few days, it would help with my suicidal thoughts and feelings of unreality. It turned out to be ten days of hell.
A holding pen, the hospital was filled with some of the craziest people I’d ever met. Cockroaches crawled up the wall. Housekeepers jeered at us. I only had the clothes on my back so I had to sort through a closet of worn clothing. For the first time, I saw a catatonic woman, frozen like a statue. I believed a woman’s delusion of running off with a radio deejay. I didn’t know she had an elaborate, interior world of her own she was living in. I thought I could leave whenever I wanted to. When the doctor said I couldn’t leave,I felt my world collapse. I was given a medication that made me almost swallow my tongue. Another medication made me talk non-stop jibberish.
Ten days later, I was put on a plane and flown to Connecticut to be with my mother. I hallucinated the entire way back. Looking out the window, I saw red liquid engulf the earth. I thought a global volcanic eruption had occurred.
I began attending a pilot program through the hospital, and for the first time, had a firm, but gentle therapist. Patients were treated humanely. We went on trips to Mystic and the Statue of Liberty. I contributed poems to the newsletter. We had movement, group, art therapies. I was diagnosed at the time with bipolar disorder and given lithium that helped stabilize me. My case worker assisted me with paperwork; applying for welfare and Social Security Disability. I was on the waiting list for a halfway house.
At Christmas, patients painted and decorated objects to be sold within the hospital. We baked cakes, cookies and brownies to raise money for our outings. It was a big success.
I moved into Interlude in November, l986, a halfway house for mentally ill adults. We met with counselors to discuss personal goals for ourselves. We took turns cooking for the ten members of the house. We had daily chores. We were required to commit 20 hours a week to work, volunteering or attending day hospital. Structure, guidance, rules, learning to take responsibilities for ourselves, cooperating with each other — these were things I had never experienced before. They believed in me. I needed tough love and a foundation from which to grow. And, for the first time, I began to grow up.
Two years later, I began dating a member of Interlude. He was a drug addict in recovery who worked as a cook and attended Alcoholics Anonymous. He meditated for two hours every morning. He played the guitar. He was a vegetarian. And, he was a loving, free-spirited man. He was a gentle soul with whom I felt safe and comforted.
We have been together ever since. We got married in l993, moved to New Haven near his family in l994. I can only say I have been through a spiritual transformation. A snake slips off an old, useless piece of skin and I too discarded a part of myself, the victim.
I am now proactive in my recovery. I know myself. I have a support system of family and friends. I have followed my passions through writing and publishing my story, working as a counselor and warm line operater, serving to inspire hope for others struggling with mental illness. I have marched in stigma-busting rallies. I have spoken to state legislators to promote the passing of laws to protect the mentally ill. I have attended conferences and served on mental health committees. I have read my poems on a mental health radio program.
Empathy for others outside the mainstream have extended beyond the mental health community. I visited with the elderly in nursing homes and dying patients at hospice. I ventured out in the world. I have traveled to Guatemala to assist children with shoes and raingear. I swam with dolphins in Key Largo. I parasailed in Bermuda. I went up in a hot air balloon over field and rivers in Massachusetts. My spirituality is as strong as ever. I needed the right people to believe in me and my potential to not only recover, but like a spirit set free — to soar.