Guest post by Dana Foglesong, recovery and integration specialist in the DCF Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.
There was a time in my life I felt my only options were death or a miserable existence; death seemed more appealing. I struggled to maintain a life in the community after being diagnosed with a mental illness. My pain was so deep that I had lost all hope. Hope is a powerful, yet tricky thing. Hope is a necessary motivator to take personal responsibility for your life, to overcome obstacles, and to move forward.
Hope has a way of building momentum to push us through even the darkest days and roadblocks in our lives. A spark of hope was lit within me when I had the opportunity to work with a Certified Recovery Peer Specialist as part of my treatment. My peer specialist struggled with similar intense emotions and experiences, but was living successfully in recovery with a family, job and home. He was living proof that possibilities existed for my life despite a diagnosis. Through his support, encouragement, and strengths based coaching, I was able to reclaim my life.
Today, hundreds of people in recovery from mental health and substance use conditions work within our systems as peer specialists. I am one of them. We are often on the front lines of engaging individuals who have been labelled difficult to reach. We see the person first, not the illness. We help our peers focus on their resiliency instead of fragility. We provide support from the perspective of having shared similar life experiences and intimately understand the pain, loss and desperation those experiences bring. We are able to say with confidence, “I am the evidence that you can recover, so have hope and hold on.”
During Recovery Month, my hope is that we start changing the narrative about people living with mental health and substance use challenges. Recovery is achievable no matter the person or condition. The evidence is all around us. Peer Specialists are just one example. Perhaps you are someone who has overcome great challenges related to mental health or addiction issues. If so, I encourage you to share your story. Your story of recovery may be what sparks hope in someone else to keep fighting for a better future. If you are someone who is lacking hope, I encourage you to reach out for support. In the midst of the storm it can be easy to believe the lie that we are alone and that no one cares.
The truth is there is hope, so hold on because possibilities exist.
I was once paralyzed with fear and hopelessness. It is common for those living with mental illness to live a life without hope. I spent years trying new medications, along with a string of doctors, fading in and out of various programs, never engaged or inspired. Not being able to hold down a job, I was eventually told to apply for Social Security Disability because it was likely that I would not be able to work again. By this time I had resigned myself to the thought and belief that this was how my entire life was going to be. Ihad given up the shred of hope that existed in my youth.
After years on Social Security and an unstable life, I found a community support group for people like myself, living with a mental illness. I suddenly found myself surrounded by my peers. I was surrounded by people who wanted to be well and move forward in their lives. After finding and attending the support group weekly, along with the right medications, I began to make progress. I found that along with them I began to improve. I began to see hope after years of hopelessness. Little did I know I was laying the foundations of a solid support system.
In this network of my peers, I found an opportunity to help others who were living the life I had lived. In 2006 I was among the first Certified Recovery Peer Specialists in the State of Florida. For nearly 10 years I have been working in a field that I love, assisting others who were trapped and struggling to navigate the mental health system, like myself. I have found a passion, a purpose, to help others who live with mental illness and to be a voice for the voiceless. I have built a great life for myself, one that I am proud of.
Recovery from mental illness is possible. I’m living proof!
“The work of our department is challenging. We are the safety net for Florida’s most vulnerable children and families. But with the challenges of our work come great rewards. Our vision is this – to deliver world-class and continuously improving service at the level and quality that we would demand and expect for our own families.” — Secretary Mike Carroll
Photo courtesy of Devereux Community Based Care. This CBC’s efforts led to a 45 percent increase in the number of homes licensed during the past year through their “25 by 25” campaign.
GREAT NEWS! We’ve seen an increase in foster homes available. DCF and community partners have recruited more than 1,380 new foster families this fiscal year!
Approximately 10,000 children are in foster placements throughout Florida. Foster parents change lives and offer hope to children who have been removed from their homes by no fault of their own, because they have experienced abuse or neglect and cannot safely remain with their parents. They play a significant role in helping families heal and reunite. When reunification is not possible they help children transition to a new home and a new family.
Last month, two DCF child protective investigators initiated an investigation at a home where a 4-year-old was allegedly living in unhealthy conditions. The father answered the door and initially would not allow them into the home, but with persistent encouragement he relented and let them in. The home was filthy, with human waste and trash strewn around the home. The father appeared to be going through severe withdrawals, and the mother was lying on the couch completely covered under a blanket. The mother was incoherent and visibly unwell, with severe bruising on her face, arms and legs.
The CPIs called 911 and at the hospital the mother was diagnosed as suffering from seizures. Doctors said her health was so poor that without intervention she faced death.
The child was placed with her grandmother, and a couple of days later, the child asked one of the CPIs to attend her 5th birthday party. The CPI attended the party and then accompanied the child and her grandmother to visit the mother in the hospital. The mother has since been discharged from the hospital. The grandmother cleaned the house, and a relative is staying with the parents in the home to provide support and assistance. The child is thriving in her grandmother’s care.