Jayme: There was a lot of sexual abuse that went on [when I was a child]. But probably one of the worst traumas that happened to me was being kicked out of the house when I had just turned 16, and having to deal with homelessness.
Then I broke down when I lost my first job. I was working at an intermediate care facility for people with developmental disabilities. I loved my job so much and then I lost it after four years. I totally broke down and went into a depression. I got committed and that began my career as a mental patient. That was in 1982.
Those were some of the traumas but honestly, they hardly compared to the traumas endured within the mental health system.
The treatment that I received wasn't really helping. Some of the side effects of the medications that they would force me to take would cause me to [be worse off]. For example, I never heard voices until they made me take Haldol. They gave me Mellaril against my will and it made me lose my eyesight. It was a side effects, but of course they didn't tell me that, and they didn't give me a choice.
I made a friend named Gordon and he was the only person I felt comfortable talking with [in the hospital]. We would go out on the grounds. We had our favorite tree and we'd climb up it. We both liked The Moody Blues and so we'd sing Moody Blues songs. We'd watch as the staff would look for us and call our names. [laughing].
Then they put him on Haldol and he changed completely. He hated it and he begged them to take him off of it. He refused to take it, so I would hear him screaming all the time as they'd hold him down and force him. He'd walk around like a ghost. We didn't even know him anymore. He didn't talk. He was just a shadow of who he was.
Next thing I know, he jumped out in front of a semi and he killed himself.
They gathered us all in the day room and told us the news and I just broke down crying. All of a sudden I'm surrounded by men dragging me to seclusion where they kept me for a week "for my own safety." There were a lot of sadistic people there. [They would] strip you completely naked, four point restraints and shoot you up with whatever drug they wanted to shoot you up with.
So it was trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma. Just because I was upset that my friend died. You're not supposed to get upset there. That's a symptom of your illness. Any kind of human experience that isn't considered "normal" is treated.
It seemed really hopeless. They had me on the chronic ward. They told me that I would probably die in the state hospital. But after years of this, I got out My last hospitalization after 20 years was in 2002.
I was living on my own in a senior disabled highrise in downtown Atlanta. It wasn't a safe place to live. There were people on crack roaming the hallways all night. I saw too many things there. I decided that I couldn't live like this anymore. So I decided, [even] if I go broke, I'm gonna move. So I found a place in Sandy Springs that I could not afford.
At the time I was working for the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network just doing their website. So I went to my boss and I told her that I really needed a [full time]job . She said that they had a position coming up for a director of a brand new peer support and wellness center. She asked if I'd like to interview for that?
I got the position and that's what made the change. I was treated with dignity and respect. I was treated like the adult that I was. When you're in the system you're treated as a child like you don't know anything. Like you don't know what's best for you.
Everyone that works there identifies as having mental health challenges, so I am among peers. The expectation was recovery and being recovery oriented rather than sitting around talking about your illness all the time like what you do in the system.