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“My Life Began at 36” – A Recovery Story by Tammi W.

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.         The following recovery story was written by Tammi Way, a 43-year old woman from Florida with lived experience of mental illness.  We are grateful to Tammi for allowing us to share her powerful story of Recovery and Hope on rtor.org.
.                                                                                                                 – Jay Boll, Editor in Chief

In the beginning, help was slow to come.  I was given fat woman medicine.  I was told that it was all in my head.  That if I looked at the world with rose colored glasses, I would be okay. It felt like no one understood me.  I didn’t have the words to tell those educated in my condition where it hurt. I just felt like I was on fire with numbness over it.  Three times my freedom was taken from me.  I was put into small spaces where I couldn’t hurt myself.  I wanted the walls to come down but had no means to collapse the barriers that kept me prisoner.  The demon was shouting then.  The demon knew that I was coming for it and that when the final battle was won I would come through scarred but alive.

The last time my freedom was taken it was a little different.  There was a gregarious soul who came to my rescue.  He remembered my pain and told me that I could do better, but with a great deal of work I could bathe in the light.  I still felt helpless.  I couldn’t handle anything.  My father spent his days fixing things that I broke because I was lonely, and I was still actively trying to hurt myself.  Seventy-five Risperdals… Okay.  Cutting a 10- inch incision on my arm and continuing to cut until I almost passed out from blood loss… Fine.  Stabbing myself over and over to dull the anguish… Good.  I was my own worst enemy.  I wanted just to stop and find rest, but in my carefully controlled world, I felt more and more out of control.  It was like a sick merry-go-round and I just wanted to get off.

This time there was a new doctor who listened and made the pills work for me.  He also asked me a question.

He said “Let me ask you this and I want you to think about this.  Are you a victim, a survivor or a person with mental illness?”  To be honest I was gob smacked.  I had never looked at it that way.

I knew that I wasn’t a victim.  No one actually did this to me.  It was the way that I was born.  I hate the word survivor, because I wasn’t planning to survive. I wanted to live.  So I decided to be a person with mental illness.  That being said, I had responsibilities.  I was just as accountable as everyone else in my healing process.  So I went with more help for myself and little by little I began to stand on my own two feet.  It didn’t happen overnight, and I can’t say that I did everything right, but I would take small chances, like getting on a bus alone and making it to my appointments on time.  I would sit and listen in classes where I was taught the skills to calm the demon’s voice.  I learned to read and became patient enough to understand that when someone gave me a suggestion that they weren’t trying to be hurtful, they were trying to make me better.  Soon I could listen to anyone and not take things personally.  I could talk and I would make sense and I didn’t have to lie or make up a story to get people to like me.

It was five years before the demon began to soften its hateful expression.  I decided to fight.  It was NOT going to kill me, I was worth something and I knew it.

It was when I named the demon, and then I stopped giving it power.  Daily I grew stronger and though the demon was still there, its voice began to grow softer.  Now the walls I put in place blocked the savage voice that was trying to kill me.  I gained the vernacular to tell those around me what was really hurting.  It was wonderfully liberating.  I could change a light bulb, I could go to the store, I could have friends, and I didn’t need to be a hermit.

I relearned how to enjoy art and to create it, though in an abstract way I could bleed my soul of the poison that was killing me and it would spill across the pages as I drew.  I again took up writing and developed a fairly disciplined writing routine.  I finally got myself into school and worked at it.  I don’t at times have the best of grades, but I am now legitimately trying.  I now don’t have to rely on my parents for company and conversation.  I have friends who I cherish and who cherish me.  I am striving to be well, every day, all day.

Now hope comes as a warm balm to soothe even my deepest wounds.  It was by no means easy and I still have bad days, but they are fewer and farther between. I am slowly becoming a whole, a “form” with rights and responsibilities. I am finding solace in small things.  Now I am beginning to know who and what I am.  I believe I am worthy of love.  I am still not completely formed, but I am NOT invisible any longer.  I am no longer the kicking post in the room.  My aura says kick me at your peril, because I am not going to give into your petty bullshit. I am Tammi and I am a sacred soul.

You can read the full version of Tammi’s story here…  Tammi’s Story: My Life Began at 36

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