By Mathew P. Flaherty and William Harter
I was diagnosed with a mental illness in the 60s. My symptoms started at 11 years old. I could not get out of bed, comb my hair or take care of myself. Eight years later, when I was 19, they diagnosed me as schizophrenic. My doctor said it was just one of those illnesses that happen, like a broken leg. Schizophrenia is not an illness easily diagnosed.
People who have mental illnesses are sometimes told it is all in their head and you are imagining what is happening to you. I wish that were the case. It is not something you can wish away—you have to face it and deal with it.
A psychiatrist examined me and I was admitted to the IMH on Dec. 17, 1975. I was there four months, and then went to a shelter.
It was a long, hard fight. I look at the position I’m in and it could have been much worse. Many people with mental illnesses are victims of crime and violence.
I graduated high school and worked at several jobs—factory, dish washer, lumber yard. I am fortunate for the position I am in now. I have been active all my life.
I’ve been very involved. The sickness did not keep me down. I appreciate where I am right now, but feel eventually there will be a cure for mental illness.
Many people were a great help to me. The people I wanted to be supportive were my parents. They were not, because they did not understand. I wished they were more understanding and sensitive to what was happening.
I am the type of person that if I get discouraged I get right back to doing what has to be done. I have fallen many times, but I get up and move forward. Even though I was sick, I knew I would succeed.
My parents loved me, but I see, looking back, we grew apart. They raised a good son who has never had a police record, been arrested, or ever has been in court.
By the grace of God, I am successful and I feel good about it. Faith in God came at an early age—I was 6. Religion was my favorite subject. I have a great walk with Him, even though I am sick.
I don’t care how good or bad someone is, or how sick, I always find something good in that person.
I have been employed for 2 years at MHCA OASIS. It has been beneficial to me. I have been a member since 2005. I once was awarded “Employee of the Month.” I belong to East Bay Advocacy Group and Save Our Mental Health Coalition.
I advise anyone with an illness to fight the fight and find positive support because you cannot make it by yourself. You need moral support. We need to get past the illness and look to the future. I keep positive about life and my God. I pray daily.