So, after a series of near fatal setbacks as to my mental health status, I reconciled to move into a community residence for people diagnosed with serious mental health disorders outside Boston, Mass in 2009. It is here where I slowly cleared my head a bit and connected with others that had serious mental health issues. I be-friended an older woman by the name of Melinda, and I was able to share some of my thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the past. I felt comfortable sharing with her because she likewise shared some of her difficulties over the years dealing with a clinical depression diagnosis. By sharing honestly with someone else who didn’t look down on me for my past or present psychiatric problems, I felt a sense of ease and anxiety relief that I hadn’t experienced before. I was able to stay at this community residence for several months until I was given an opportunity to move into another community residence closer to Hudson, NY. And although, I can’t say the first community residence I lived in offered much in the way of teaching behavioral skills to help manage my problematic thought process, it did offer me a chance to sober up enough and connect with others that had serious mental health problems in a REAL way without feeling shamed for my diagnoses. After staying at this community residence for some months, I moved on to the other community residence closer to Hudson, NY. The community residence here was called the Hearth and it was here that my recovery really took off in a positive direction.
While living at the Hearth I was afforded all the amenities that the previous community residence had such as meals, a place to sleep and relax, caring staff, and other community members that also had serious mental health struggles that I could feel free to connect with. In addition, we were introduced to “Recovery Classes” that were sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Columbia/Greene Counties New York. I was blessed in that my first teacher was a Peer Specialist who achieved advanced recovery from a clinical depression diagnosis utilizing various recovery skills that he learned through an accredited training program. This first recovery teacher by the name Don, not only inspired me to advance my recovery level but he was able to relay the basic concepts of recovery in such a way that it resonated within me to the point I began to really snap out of being a victim of my psychiatric symptoms and instead become a master of them. I must also say that a primary reason I was able to succeed under the direction of my first teacher is that he was a “peer” in that he had lived experience as someone that struggled and overcame severe mental health problems. And though, our diagnoses were different from each other the recovery principles that he spelled out that became a foundation for my recovery were the same. After roughly a year under the stewardship of the Hearth and the initial recovery classes I took, the program evolved into what is called the PROS program or Personalized Recovery Oriented Services that offered multiple mental health recovery and support classes for those diagnosed with serious mental health disorders. And it was roughly the year 2012 that I was given the opportunity to live in a supported housing situation wherein I was given an apartment while being supervised and continuing my recovery education at PROS. This latest move sparked my recovery level towards heights myself or anyone else could not have imagined.
Overtime, I advanced my recovery skills through the PROS (Personalized Recovery Oriented Services) program and not only graduated from this mental health program but began teaching classes that I designed and developed as a volunteer. Eventually, I accrued enough teaching and online education hours to become a Fully certified peer specialist in the mental health field through OMH of New York State. As well, I began a support group at the Columbia Memorial Psych Unit where I had been involuntarily hospitalized several times to reach out to other peers and encourage them to make steps towards recovery.
Throughout my recovery journey, I gave several public presentations for NAMI of Columbia County that spoke on a variety of recovery topics. NAMI of Columbia County helped my mother gain insight and provided emotional support for her during my mental health struggles over the years. But my most recent project was the development of the Mental Health Awareness gallery. It started out as a pipe dream of sorts. I had been active in the mental health recovery field for so many years and it dawned on me that it would be a great idea to draw on all the personal recovery connections I had made over time and begin the process of assembling artists and creative people in recovery from serious mental health problems and publicly showcase their artwork in an effort to eliminate stigma and activate a new understanding and perspective of those people that experience mental health problems within the surrounding community. Overtime, with the help of many others I slowly pieced together what was to become the nonprofit Mental Health Awareness and Creative Arts Gallery. Since its inception, our growing team of artists put together 4 successful public exhibitions in the heart of Hudson, NY. We continued to attract public attention day by day and finally accrued enough funding to open a permanent gallery space in Hudson wherein our artists are now able to consistently showcase their artwork and educate others as to the therapeutic benefits of art/creative work in recovery.