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 Living My Life with a Mental Illness by Janet L. Furia
 was published in the Summer 2011 issue of the Empowerment Magazine
 
I was diagnosed with a mental illness in my early teens and have had this cross to bear since then. Although I am able to maintain a relatively “normal” lifestyle, my world is punctured by episodes of drama brought on by my illness. Over the years I have been helped by an assortment of medications that help keep me within bounds. I am keenly aware of which medications and dosage I need to control my psychotic episodes. I am also aware of the circumstances that trigger these episodes, and I can only control them with the help and intervention of others.
 
I came to Sacramento in late 2005 from Santa Rosa Acute County Hospital. I was having some trust issues with the staff and my doctor that led to me lashing out and behaving in certain destructive ways. For a period of time we had a very hostile relationship. When the staff there found out I had a daughter in Sacramento, they packed my few belongings into a paper bag, drove me to her house, and dropped me off there with no medications and no information on available support services. It was a very dark period in my life. I was disoriented and in a strange new town.It was not easy for me to adjust to this situation, and hence I had several breakdowns and did some cuttings, which landed me in the hospital. It was from there that I was directed to an agency with wraparound services.
 
In the beginning my outlook on my life was gloomy, and my relationship with staff was an extension of the relationship I had with the Santa Rosa staff. I didn’t trust the staff or doctors. As far as I was concerned, they really didn’t care about me. It was at this time that I met a person by the name of Eugene who for some unknown reason saw in me something no one else saw. Over the next several years he patiently and compassionately taught me other ways of reaching out to those who were trying to help me and to trust in them, all the time while dealing with the horror that was my life.
 
It was because of him that I finally started to accept the treatment that was being offered and to begin to build a relationship with my counselors and doctors. Being mentally ill most of my life, I lacked coping skills when I became overwhelmed or stressed. My usual behavior when faced with drama I couldn’t resolve immediately was to attempt suicide. The only way for me to break this cycle was for my doctors to balance and monitor my medication and for the staff to be present early on in my crisis prevention and to be proactive in helping me to stop a full-blown episode.
This has not been easy, as a review of my records will show. I am aware of many circumstances that trigger my episodes and I can only control them with the help and intervention of others.
 
It is important to know the triggers that can and will cause episodes, such as incorrect medication, frustration, anger, sleep deprivation, anxiety, isolation, and the failure to respond of those I ask for help. After that it becomes a combination or a chain of events that leads to my breakdown, usually ending in self-mutilation as I again try to kill myself. It is an endless cycle that those close to me have seen all too often. From experience I know what the beginning signs are when I am about to have an episode. It is during this initial stage that I have learned to ask for help. But sometimes asking for help is like telling a drowning person who is gulping water to relax and swim calmly to shore; it is not easy in the moment.
 
As I have grown with the assistance of this agency, I began to attend more of the group sessions that were offered. I learned better ways of coping with the difficulties of my life. I was better able to call and talk to the staff during the night, a very critical time for me. Many times that was all I needed to avert an episode. As I began to gain more self-control and more self-esteem, I was better able to become responsible for controlling my own medication. I found the confidence and with the assistance of my counselor, I was able to move out of the “room and board” rotation and into a single room at a family residence. I am better able to manage my money, to the point where I am responsible enough to pay my rent and associated bills plus to budget my income so as to provide nutritious meals for myself throughout the month. The hallmark of my accomplishments has been that I am able to work part-time as a receptionist at Turning Point’s front desk, which they have kept available for me even after I have had setbacks.
 
Over the years I have had some very difficult times. Through all this, the staff has always treated me like a person who has a mental illness and not like the illness itself, which is the way I have been treated most of my life. Because of the support, the education, and my commitment, I am learning to value my own life and to look for other ways of responding to difficulties and breaking lifelong habits.
 
I will always have a mental illness. I will never be able to handle the consequences alone. Because of the way staff treat me, I no longer feel like I am just a case number. Now I am a person, a person who has a new family. The staff looks out for me in my darkest hour and continually reaches out to welcome me back when I stumble and fall. I no longer feel like I am alone. I have been given the strength to fight the demons that dwell within me. You have helped me get back my life.
 

 
Janet continues to work for Turning Point Community Programs (
www.tpcp.org). She has been employed for over a year. Janet has a personal goal to help others in need and has expressed a desire to become a peer mentor. She is appreciated for her dedication to educating others about the journey mental health consumers experience.