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Member Stories – Tamara

I recently initiated the formation of a SA group, and at the urging of our S.A. members, I am writing this letter to you. I am now 48 years old. I was diagnosed as schizophrenic when I was 13 years old. I spent the better part of my adolescence and young adulthood in hospitals. I decided that I didn’t want to spend the remainder of my life in more hospitals, so I applied to attend a university in California. I spent the next 27 years in and out of hospitals and going to school. I eventually was awarded a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Many professionals discouraged my efforts, but in 1988 I walked to the stage and received my doctoral degree. It was a difficult battle, and I have to give credit to the Psychiatrist I’ve had for the last 21 years, and the Clinical Social Worker I’ve known since my first psychotic episode when I was 13. After I got my Ph.D., I fought my disease and the stigma of mental illness in my struggle for employment. I learned from my mistakes which cost me several jobs, and along with my Psychiatrist, we experimented with different medications. Fortunately, we found a combination of medications which kept me out of hospitals and I kept employment as a therapist in a residential treatment facility for mentally disturbed adolescents for 6 ½ years. I was then offered the position of Clinical Director at another residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents, where I have been employed for the last 3 years.

One year ago, I made the decision to become public with my struggle with schizophrenia, and have now spoken at two assemblages of people regarding mental illness. I was asked to apply for a position on the Board of Directors of our local Mental Health Association and have now been elected Board President.

I really wanted to share with you the thoughts and feelings expressed by the members of our SA group. We meet once a week regularly to discuss many different issues, some of which are: 1) The stigma of mental Illness; 2) How do you know when it is safe to reveal you suffer from a mental illness; 3) The need for intimacy and the problems we face attaining intimate relationships; 4) Wanting children and the risks of having children; 5) Different living environments; 6) Attaining employment; 7) Controlling odd behaviors in public; 8) Medication, its benefits and its side effects; 9) Coping with relatives; 10) The homeless mentally ill; 11) Depression and suicide and many other issues that impinge on having quality in our lives. I am struck with the pertinence of these topics and the level of the articulation at which we express our concerns. What also struck me is that no one or very few people actually ask mentally ill people their opinions on these subjects. While we realize that we don’t have all the solutions or answers to these problems, it is really helpful to have a safe place to discuss these issues and the importance of the support that the SA members provide for each other.