I am thirty-two years old and am diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, PTSD, ADHD and anxiety. Why is my age so important? Because even five years ago, I did not think I would make it to this age. I have struggled with mental illness my entire life. In fact, my first suicide attempt was at age seven.

Living with my mental illness has given me many ups and downs throughout my life. Some days I felt on top of the world like I can accomplish anything, and some days I have felt so down that I just wanted to die. I think my darkest day was when I called Social Services on myself. I had a four-year-old daughter at the time. I slept all day and could not take care of her. She was basically taking care of herself. I was cutting in front of her and it really scared her.

I never imagined what calling Social Services would do for me. Immediately, many people came into our lives. At the time, I thought calling Social Services was the worst decision I ever made, but looking back, it is probably the best decision I ever made. I was able to place my daughter with my parents and really focus on myself. A couple weeks after my daughter was removed from my home, I ended up in my last psychological hospitalization. That was when I decided that suicide was no longer an option and barring any accidents, I would live for a very long time. It was at this point I decided I was going to live a happier life, and I was going to make the most of any opportunities I was offered.

One of the best things Social Services did for me was pay for my individual and family counseling. I also participated in a wellness program that was offered in the community not only focused on mental wellness but also physical wellness. I was also offered the support of a peer specialist which I learned that I was not alone and there were others out there just like me. Not only that, but this peer specialist appeared to be successful. I knew one day I would be just like her.

I began to progress with all my classes and therapy. In fact, at one time I was registered for nineteen wellness classes! The people in the mental health center began to see my progress and began to offer me other opportunities. I began to volunteer at the mental health center making phone calls, working events, and stuffing envelopes. I then got offered an opportunity to sit on their Behavioral Health Organization’s Client and Family Advisory Board.

Through all this, I began to develop my confidence. I began speaking to politicians and to anyone else who would listen about the prevalence of mental illness and all the needs to be done to support people in recovery. I had hope! Once my Social Services case closed, I discovered an opportunity to help other families through the system, and I jumped on it! I mentored families with mental illness problems through the system. I also went to Team Decision Making Meetings through Social Services as a family advocate.

Now that my confidence level was soaring and I actually felt like I was worth something, I mustered up my strength and even left an abusive marriage. I now have a great boyfriend who treats me well. Because of my recovery, I would never go back to being abused again.

I had decided by then it was my passion to help others with their own struggles with mental illness, and I applied at a couple of places with openings for peer specialists positions and to my surprise, I got offered both jobs. I accepted a full time position and have been working as a peer specialist for over a year now.

I still struggle with my mental illness but it is manageable now and I am happy with my life. I have gotten to take what society may see as my weaknesses and that I have made them my strengths. Mental illness does not define me, it compliments me. What excites me the most is that every struggle I have been through, means something powerful in my life. I can reach out to others who face similar struggles, and I will make an important impact on them like the trans-formative impact others had on me.