My illness began gradually. What later was diagnosed as major depression/bipolar disorder started when I became aware that it was very hard for me to focus — on anything. I was a teacher, and I loved my job very much. But my depression got so bad that the things that I had previously been able to do with little effort or thought became difficult to the point that I knew I could no longer teach. It was an incredibly painful decision, but I left my job.

However, making the decision to leave the job I loved only made things worse.

I made a suicide attempt and was taken to the hospital. None of the professionals I encountered seemed to understand what I was going through. I felt I had no voice, or that my voice was not being heard or acknowledged. None of the diagnoses they flung at me seemed to accurately describe how I felt. My diagnosis was, in my own words, that I was in a “deep dark pit” that was so deep and dark that I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel — because I was, in fact, under the tunnel.

As a result of my illness, my marriage ended. I had left a job I loved, and I was told I would likely never work again. I felt deeply alone and tired.

“Recovery from mental illness — for me, anyway — has only been possible because I found a powerful community of people.”

Pivotal support network

What finally helped me begin to climb out of the dark and hopeless pit was when I discovered Magnolia Clubhouse. Magnolia Clubhouse, in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of hundreds of “Clubhouses” around the world that help people living with mental illness rebuild their lives. When I started to go to Magnolia, I was so moved and grateful when I began to see that the members, participants and staff of the Clubhouse did hear my voice, and cared what I had to say. They didn’t try to jam my round peg into some square peg of a program that could fit everyone. For me, what was most important was to find a way to keep my home so my children would have stability. It was also extremely important for me to start to work again, and prove wrong those professionals that had told me I wouldn’t be able to get and keep a job. After listening to me and hearing me, the Magnolia Clubhouse community helped me get to work to accomplish these goals.

Even though I knew from experience that I couldn’t hold a job, the Magnolia Clubhouse community was such a powerful support net under and around me, I was willing to try. Recovery from mental illness — for me, anyway — has only been possible because I found a powerful community of people who knew what I was going through, and who were totally committed to seeing me succeed.

A new direction

Despite all the negative self-talk in my head, the incredible encouragement from so many people from the Clubhouse helped me to start to believe that I just might be able to do this. And I did.

Magnolia Clubhouse helped me get a temporary part-time job in a local law firm, and not only did I succeed, but after several months on the job, the HR manager asked me to take on more responsibility and renegotiate my pay. Even though I had to go back to the hospital for a brief stay, Magnolia Clubhouse worked with the employer and covered my job for me so when I was discharged, my job was there waiting for me.

Today, I have my home, and my children have a stable life. And recently, I was offered an opportunity to work and advocate for young adults, in a pilot program of our local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board. I am currently working with a group to complete the 501(c)(3) for this project. My goal for the future is to have a driving passion to open a Clubhouse on the west side of Cleveland.

Although I have no illusions that the road ahead of me will be easy, or that I will always be able to see the light at the end of every tunnel, I know that with my community of support around me, I can live the life I want for myself.