If you told me six years ago that I would be working at my dream job today as a mental health peer specialist and program coordinator at form communities, I would not have believed you for three reasons”
The first reason being that I was only just beginning my mental health recovery journey after several psychiatric hospitalizations for acute psychosis.
The second reason being I had not worked in a professional setting for a couple of years.
The last reason being I had lost all sense of trust in my ability to decipher reality.
The concept that I could work became foreign to me for some time following my first acute psychotic break. I could hardly function typically, much less think about doing meaningful work at a mental health nonprofit.
For years, I lived within the confines of my psychotic mind. Celia was in there somewhere, but I was completely lost in my psychosis. I had numerous and varied beliefs around things that could not possibly be true, or real, for example I believed without a shadow of a doubt that I was the reincarnated extraterrestrial Jesus Christ sent to Earth to bring peace amongst various types of sentient beings. This in turn led me to believe that strangers were trying to kill me, which frightened me to my core and had me constantly on edge ready to defend myself physically.
I also believed that a chip had been implanted into my tooth by the U.S. government to record and monitor my thoughts, which technically were not always my own thoughts, but the thoughts of evil beings infiltrating my mind. I was experiencing countless delusions, which together with other psychotic symptoms that reinforced one another, created a pit of despair I constantly found myself falling into.
I was hearing incredibly malicious voices, both internally and externally, 24/7 until I was either sedated by hospital staff in the psychiatric hospital, or given sleeping medication by my family once home. I was also seeing a multitude of things that were not real. I was extremely confused, depressed and agitated both physically and mentally.
Over the course of a few years, I spent four months in psychiatric hospitals and, in retrospect, I was always released too early. The time between hospitalizations had a general theme, which included my walking all day, forgetting to eat frequently, holding conversations with bushes, yelling at strangers and sporadically dancing in the street all the while my vicious mind tormented me.
To say that it has been a hard road does not give sufficient credit to the suffering I have endured over the years. Schizophrenia manifested itself in me to the ultimate degree and stole years from my life. While this is true, my lived experience allowed me to understand schizophrenia very fundamentally, and even while my great-grandmother and grandma both lived with schizophrenia, I did not know much about it. The insight I have into this complex and debilitating mental health condition is something that cannot be learned through books, it comes from firsthand experience.
My lived experience has enabled me to do two things: the first thing is I founded a nonprofit in 2021 to support people living with schizophrenia in Latin America. The second is I have this spectacular career at form communities, formerly known as the San Antonio Clubhouse in San Antonio, Texas. Without my lived experience, I would not be where I am and frankly, if the end result of my pain is this wonderful present, I’m all for it.
I found out about the international Clubhouse movement when I moved to Texas from California. I received a scholarship from form communities and, through their Connection Center program, I completed the CORE training for peer specialists and the week-long Mental Health Peer Specialist training. From there, I became an intern and shortly thereafter I became a contractor. A couple of months later, I received a full-time employment offer, which I joyfully accepted.
With form communities, I get to train future mental health peer specialists in the state of Texas and this is just one aspect of my job. I’m also the program coordinator for Peer Academy PACE Track 1, which is a program that provides a stipend to interns to develop themselves both professionally and personally while collecting the required 250 hours of peer work to obtain their two-year mental health peer specialist certification in Texas.
Today, my life is wildly different, and in a positive way, and that’s a beautiful thing. I do what I love and what brings a tremendous sense of meaning to my life. In many ways, I credit my ongoing sense of well-being to my work with form communities. Recovery is never going to be an easy journey, but finding my life’s purpose and committing to my wellness, certainly makes for a fulfilling journey.