This is my story about my struggles with bi-polar disorder, substance abuse, and second chances. My journey began approximately 2 years ago. Between my undiagnosed mental illness and substance abuse, I was on a road of self-destruction. I was not capable of living a normal life. I couldn’t get from A to B no matter how hard I tried. My mind wouldn’t focus, and I was a mess. My addiction and my lifestyle took me to some very dark places and introduced me to disreputable people. I lost most of everything that had meaning in my life.
One day I woke up to find myself homeless and living in the shelter system. I had lost my family and children. I had no money and no place to live, and I still thought in my mind that I was okay. At that point I had only my addiction and myself to worry about. I stayed in the shelter system for six months before I said, “enough is enough.” I was tired of feeling lost, lonely, and sick. It was time to get some help.
I reached out for help and spent the next 10 days in a detox program. From there I agreed to go to a rehabilitation center for 28 days. There I learned a lot about myself and my mental illness. I suffer from bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. The psychiatrists and the doctors prescribed medication to help stabilize my moods and monitored me for the first couple of weeks. It was then that I started seeing things so much clearer and brighter. I gained insight into the damage I had caused others in my life and began to recognize the things I had lost due to my illness.
The next step I had to face was my homelessness. With no place to go once I was discharged from the rehabilitation center; my counselor suggested a halfway house called Amethyst House. I went for the interview and was accepted into the program. Amethyst House is a place for women who have lost themselves and their ability to be able to live in the real world again, or just forgot how. It’s an amazing program filled with rules and lots of structure, which scared me to death. It was the first step on my journey back into the real world. I had so many mixed emotions. The staff there was amazing. I learned so much about myself and was able to begin to make amends to those I had hurt. After a year I was set to graduate.
Starting over with no place to live, no money, food or furniture can be terribly overwhelming. It was then that my counselor introduced me to Saint Joseph’s Medical Center. I found out their Residential Services department provided housing for people with mental illness. I couldn’t believe places like that existed. After my interview they accepted me into their program. I was now overwhelmed with excitement and disbelief in how my life has changed. The program at Residential Services is set up to help men and women like me get a second chance.
I learned how to trust and believe again, but this program trusts and believes in me. They help set me up with a beautiful furnished apartment, helped me with food and utilities, and gave me a job. I work for their employment program called Rainbow, which is sponsored by Saint Joseph’s Medical Center. The program is amazing and run by amazing people. The staff in Residential Services care about their clients and it shows in everything they do. The rewards and miracles of this program have made me grateful. Because of this program, no client of theirs (and there are over 700 clients) will ever go hungry, ever be alone, or ever be cold. My mother is and always will be my hero, but I could never be where I am today without the 3 ladies I admire and look up to, and I call them my “3 Lady Bosses”: Gigi Lipman of Amethyst House, and Elizabeth Woods and Marianne DiTommaso of Residential Services. I’m still on my journey and still continue to surround myself with these special women, positive people, and my support groups. I continue to live in my beautiful apartment and go to work every day. This program helps me give back to those who aren’t as fortunate as I am.
Saint Joseph’s Residential Services provides a full continuum of residential and housing options—from transitional community residences to permanent housing—so that persons with mental illness and other special needs can live as independently as possible. Residential Services manages 724 beds in four boroughs of New York City, as well as in Westchester County. For more information, visit www.stvincentswestchester.org.