Living one’s own life: a rather simple concept but somehow thrown on the back burner. Somewhere along the path in this journey of mental illness, we lose ourselves. Prior to the onset of my mental illness—well into adulthood—I was someone: a daughter, an educated woman, a teacher, a wife, a mother of two children, a good friend, and the list goes on.
But mental illness is a disease of isolation. It’s like the parting of the Red Sea. At least in my case, all those significant roles and relationships disappeared with the tides. Friends suddenly took sides, there were boundaries drawn and alienations ensued.
And then, my life was no longer my own. I entered a whole new world of caretakers, doctors, social workers, programs and medications. Welcome to your new family: Monday – Friday, business hours only.
My life became all about work. When that inevitable question came at the party, “What do you do?” I had an answer; I did volunteer work. Then I had a Transitional Employment placement at Venture House. Next I had a Supported Employment position at the Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies, a real job for real pay! Work was all-consuming with expectations, and demands, Monday through Friday.
Then came the weekend, and I dropped out of sight. With no work, there was no meaning. I asked myself if that was all that there is.
Something shifted. I began searching for something else, for the real meaning of wellness. Happiness was finding the balance and harmony between work, play, and personal relationships, as a mother, wife, partner, and dog lover (how could I forget Dylan, my twelve-year-old pedigree Pug?!).
Wellness means rediscovering your passions, hobbies, interests. I became a participant in the world.
I decided to try to commit to just this one Saturday devoted to an afternoon of Wellness & Yoga. After a session of Yoga for beginners, as well as a long walk around the park, I could barely manage to sit down at a table. The next day was even worse as far as the aches and pains were concerned. The true test was whether I could commit to another Saturday. This was not an overnight transformation. Slowly I began to re-discover my passion for yoga. After about seven weeks of this regime, I noticed that I felt more energized and my posture had improved. A sense of wellbeing was coming over me. Remnants of the old Pat began to emerge! My ability to multi-task returned and my ability to tackle everyday problems improved.
I rediscovered yet another passion: listening and dancing to 1970s-80s and Rhythm and Blues music. For several years I have assisted my boyfriend, currently a DJ, with the selection of vinyls for his set at fundraisers for a nonprofit organization. When New Challenges Clubhouse created opportunities to learn how to become a DJ, I signed up immediately for Session 1. I am now enrolled in Session 2 and am certified in basic wiring and set up on the CD mixer. As the course progresses, our instructor will help to refine and modify our techniques, so that we can acquire a marketable skill. My grown children cannot believe that their “old” mother is becoming a DJ. As a DJ during a social event, I feel so empowered. I am no longer on the sidelines. I went from being a passive assistant to being in control of the music itself. I get a rush when I see the crowd’s excited response to the flow of the play list.
With each new step I am taking I feel more mastery over my environment. It has a kind of domino effect, and I find myself taking risks. I’m entering a new and exciting territory and the possibilities are endless. “I feel my time to get a life is now,” to quote John Allen, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, New York State Office of Mental Health, author of Envisioning a Life Beyond Services.
I aspire to live that American Dream and have a piece of that pie. To get a taste of life again, we need to recover our passions in our own natural environments, in addition to treatment. The new paradigm of intervention, at its core, should be based on a person’s desires, wants, and needs. Staff and supports can be used to help people take advantage of naturally occurring organizations such as volunteer organizations, schools, parks, libraries. Being a native New Yorker and current city resident, there are vast arrays of free events touching on culture, art, music, sports, and nature that are listed in local newspapers. The possibilities are endless to exist in the world and live your life on your own terms.