Though she had dealt with depression throughout her younger life, Allison sought out mental health treatment after she began experiencing delusional thoughts in college. No one else had recognized that she was having issues, however. She saw a private psychiatrist for a few years, but, after a relapse, she was placed in a mental institute for a short time, and the staff referred her to the services offered at Jefferson Center for Mental Health. As a high school student, Allison was enrolled in the college prep program, seen as highly ambitious by her teachers and peers. Fast forward, when she had approached Jefferson Center, Allison was homeless, had dropped out of school had been in jail for six months, charged with a couple misdemeanors that were dropped because of a mental health plea. She felt lost—like a failure after her accomplished school years.
The services and resources provided by Jefferson Center that Allison found most helpful were the sessions with her therapist and the involvement of case manager. These case managers were able to supply helpful advice, life tips, and, most importantly to Allison, masterful coping skills. They helped steer her through court-ordered medication and managing counseling. Wellness groups also impacted Allison, particularly a creative writing group.
Allison had always enjoyed writing as a creative medium, though, she often wrote poetry about melancholic topics, and she was not sure how this was going to make her feel better. However, art therapy, she found, was not necessarily about the quality or subject matter of her writing. Through these classes, Allison heard about other people’s experience through a more creative lens, which in turn helped her internalize her own experiences. Some people like to journal, Allison’s mom often partaking in this coping exercise, but she found this creative process works better for her, almost like a funnel through which the final product reflects both Allison as a writer and person, like “tricking herself” into getting therapy.
From the front office staff to the security, from the counselors and psychiatrists to the Blue Spruce Pharmacy staff, Allison is grateful to everyone at Jefferson Center. Her experience has always been filled with genuine care and kindness. Before, Allison believed therapy was just “talking” about your emotions, receiving vague, ultimately useless advice. Now, however, she’s realized that therapy does help if the person receiving therapy truly understands that their emotions, their circumstances and situation, and they as a person can all change. They just need to put in the work. A coping skill Allison practices often is positive self-talk, where she has “conversations” with herself in order to talk through problems or negativity.
A lot of people might believe therapy will be an upward trajectory, but it’s good to know going in that this isn’t true. There will still be highs and lows, but therapy helps you manage the lows much better than if you were to handle them yourself. Everyone will heal at different lengths and in different methods. After 8 or 9 years of working on sobriety, Allison admits she’s relapsed a couple times, but she’s always gotten back up, sometimes needing to take the world day-by-day, and now she is going on over two years of being sober. She hears about people who are twenty or thirty years sober, and though it seems almost impossible, they show her that it can be her future as well.
“I have to be my own best advocate. Every day I don’t try is a day wasted.”Allison
For a while, she was self-conscious that her life wasn’t making as much progress as she had hoped. But, after working on her mental health, Allison went back to school to finish her bachelor’s degree. She understands now that her mental health is a number one priority.
Allison has re-built many relationships, including the one she shares with her parents, with better communication. Her mom often says, “Allison, life is not a race. It’s a journey.” When she thinks about what a “good life” is, she wonders how that is measured. By the years you lived? By the places you visited? When we think about the “American dream,” it involves a good-salaried career with a spouse and children, or perhaps traveling and reaching career goals. Oftentimes, however, poor mental health can postpone these things. What helps Allison is allowing herself to let go of people, especially the ones that worsened her struggles with substance use, and also understanding it is okay to set boundaries for herself.
Allison wants people who might be considering mental health treatment to know that, in this moment, everything you have ever done is in the past, and you can take this moment and move forward from it. You can improve your life five minutes from now by working on new coping skills, by putting down a pipe or a bottle. Just give yourself some grace.
Has your life improved because of mental health treatment? Do you wish to use your experience to help others?
Sharing your experiences with mental health treatment can help others who are struggling, and it can help fight the stigma of seeking mental health care.
You can remain anonymous.
For more information, please email VoicesOfHope@jcmh.org.