Dante: Mental Illness Can Happen to Anyone

A man shares his story of recovering from mental illness and using coping skills to lead a productive life.

My personal story with mental health care concerns began at Wellstone in 2005. This was a traumatic experience for me and my family. Before I had my psychotic episode, I worked at UPS (Louisville International Airport location) full time for more than 12 years. I was involved in my faith, volunteered at the YMCA youth programs, and attended Webster University to complete my dual master’s program (human resources and management leadership). My experiences with mental illness opened my eyes to the possibility that any of us could be afflicted with mental health issues. Stigma was also a new experience for me because unlike racism, this new prejudice comes from all sides of humanity. I found myself hitting a glass ceiling at work real quick after my release from Wellstone. I was placed in a job position of isolation from my peers. I was encouraged to work odd hours (twilight from Thursday to Monday).

I believe my job had good intentions to protect me from direct scrutiny, almost like quarantine. I feel that most people believe that if you quarantine the mentally ill from the masses, the illness will not spread. Mental illness is not a communicable disease. My purpose is not only to bring mental health care deficiencies to the fore; it’s the issue of continued education and “recovery” methods. I especially believe that minorities in Louisville, Kentucky are suffering from a lack of education and health care services, thus making up the largest incarcerated population in the Louisville metro area.

Honestly, the education about mental illness is seldom discussed in the African American community. As an African American “consumer,” my real opportunity to learn about my illness started with an organization named NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). My father and mother struggled with understanding my mental illness. I didn’t even understand it either. So they attended several Family-to-Family support programs. This educational program helped me and my parents to forge a new bond. The bond resulted in a better understanding about my illness and its effects. Unfortunately, most families are ignorant about mental health issues until it comes to their “front porch.”

It’s very humbling to gain the rich education I have earned, and then get diagnosed with a mental illness. I attained a master’s degree in human resources and management leadership at Webster University, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville, and an associate’s degree in industrial engineering technology from Jefferson Community and Technical College. In addition, I fulfilled my seven-year enlistment with the U.S. Army, concluding my service with an honorable discharge as a sergeant before I became ill.

I have coped with the realities of my disorders while recovering and reclaiming a productive life with meaning and dignity. I want to share the ups and downs of my recovery and help others to learn from my experiences (do’s and don’ts). I have been empowered by Seven Counties Services volunteering opportunities, NAMI Louisville support groups (Connections), mental health conferences, and peer-to-peer classes, which I have facilitated as a mentor.

One of my success stories is that I am now a certified Kentucky peer support specialist. I believe that it is important for peer support specialists to share their brightest and darkest hours. Personally, I never thought a recovery process could help me with my mental illness. It is a long, difficult journey each day dealing with mental illness. I can relate to other “consumers” because I live it each day. I want to share my feelings and experiences that occur during my darkest moments of living with my illness, as well as my brightest moments too. In my opinion, each “consumer” needs to feel that there is hope and support for their recovery process by hearing and seeing positive experiences.

Currently, I work part time for Seven Counties Services (Center One Downtown) as a computer peer support specialist. My work responsibilities are: providing computer tutoring for “clients,” teaching basic computer skills, assisting with peer-to-peer group sessions, assisting with GED pre-test exercises, and conducting Microsoft Applications classes (for example, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access).

I have been through Seven Counties Services training courses: Verbal De-escalation Skills for Clinical Staff, and Ethics/Dual Relationships for Clinicians. Recently, I completed a training program with NAMI Louisville called IOOV (In Our Own Voice).

Most importantly, I have a variety of coping skills in place that were developed by my physicians. My physicians have noted that my condition has improved. My key components of continued recovery are setting goals, being current with my medications, and staying active (for example, walking, prayer, positive peers, playing basketball, and volunteering) in organizations like Seven Counties (Center One Downtown) and NAMI Louisville.

As a “consumer,” recovery means that I stay aware of my personal indicators that help my family members and me to know when I need more help than usual. My recovery includes keeping a daily plan or routine that I follow each day, which keeps me active and moving “forward” with my recovery. For me, “recovery” means taking my medicine, setting goals and being active. I do realize that these methods are just as important to me as my medications.

Recovery is an ongoing process that is possible. Confide in your physicians, family, and friends for the support that will fuel your path to a productive and fulfilling life now and into the future.

Last Updated: 12/22/2015