Karen works as a Rights and Advocacy Trainer for the Office of Recipient Rights at Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority. She trains caregivers in the rights of peers of the public mental health sector. Recovery is taught. She serves on the Consumer Empowerment Group, made up of primary consumers, who advise CMH about what the Recovery Model needs and promote Empowerment, which equals the Recovery foundation. Former Co-Chair of the Consumer Evaluation Committee and still serving on the Committee; which evaluates policies, procedures and surveys regarding consumer issues; and the Consumer Employee Initiative Committee, which discusses consumer employee rights. Also a Mental Health First Aid Trainer, training the general public, consumers and anyone else interested, in how to spot a mental health crisis and what can be done about it until the proper people arrive to help.
My story starts in my parents’ basement. I was trapped below ground, lying on my bed, wishing I was dead. My deep depression landed me in the hospital. What a culture shock! There were so many people with problems like mine; men women and children. I felt overwhelmed by the humanity I faced. I was taken off all of my medications and left to go through detoxification, without anything to help and without any explanation. I heard (but would not look at) the degradation of a man, who would not take a shower. He was stripped naked in his room and carried, kicking and screaming, to the shower a great distance down the hall. This was done when all of us were in our rooms. Many people witnessed his shame. Other Rights violations occurred, which I was unaware of as violations at the time.
I was, fortunately, saved by Occupational Therapy. This was a glorified Arts and Crafts class. And, without any training, I picked up a paintbrush and started painting flowers. I felt closer to my Higher Power than ever before. With each stroke, He and I communed. I began to heal.
It wasn’t until I took the Michigan Certified Peer Support Specialist training, though, that I earnestly began my Journey to Recovery. I bonded with many people. We shared each others’ stories and experiences, in a nurturing setting. For once, people were non-judgmental, as we learned new skills in how to help others with experiences like ours.
I have come away stronger and with new tools, which I continually develop to use to assist others, as well as myself. Sometimes I feel like a gardener again, planting the seeds of recovery in hungry minds.
There is a movement to encourage recovery from mental illness. It is a journey. Some people recover; some people “graduate” from the public system. Some people overcome the devastation of their mental illness and become hopeful visionaries of their own futures.
I am in Recovery. Each step I take keeps me on the Road. When I don’t take a step, I am waiting for someone or something to jog the memory of why I am on this Road, at all. I have learned along the way that sometimes I need to rest a bit and regain the strength of my integrity to go forward. Each step must be deliberate. This is my survival, after all. Feeble steps are okay; backward steps need to be accepted and acknowledged as a good attempt at a learning experience. Yet, my steps are on the Path. It is when I sit down on the side of the Road and put my head between my legs and sag down, that I know I need help. Fortunately, my circle of supports is great. As long as I reach out for someone in my circle (or outside of it—as in outreach), by asking a question, giving a solution, putting in my ‘two-bits’ about a subject, or just plain ask for help, I get a hand up to get back on the Road. My bed is made on the Road to Recovery. I live and breathe Recovery. I thank my Higher Power that I live in a Recovery-rich climate. Hope lives.