I graduated from high school in June of 2004 and attended George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, for my freshman year. Before that, in 2003, I had experienced my first “episode” of a mental health problem. I was diagnosed with depression and given anti-depressants to take. I felt better for about a year or so until I had my second episode with mental illness at the end of my freshman year of college. I LOVED living away from home and attending GMU, but because of my mental health, I moved back home to Southeastern Virginia to live with my family.
That was the beginning of the long process of being correctly diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder. I went to several psychiatrists and had 7 hospitalizations before I was finally given treatment that worked. Basically, Schizoaffective Disorder means that I see things and hear things that aren’t really there (that’s the “schizo” part of the name)…the “affective” part of the name means that there is evidence of a mood disorder (like depression and sometimes mania) as well. It took quite a few years to be properly diagnosed and put on the “right” medications (or medications that actually worked!).
In the meantime, I worked a few different jobs (swimming pool maintenance, instructor for an after-school program, lifeguard, and caregiver to the elderly) and attended a few different schools. I couldn’t decide on a career or an academic program, although I usually found myself pulled toward the nursing program in school.
I began attending a “Partial Hospitalization Program” through my local mental health center, and, after attending for 6 months or so, I was offered a job there. I got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and also took a two-week, 80 hour class to become a Certified Peer Specialist (basically a person with a mental illness who provides support/counseling to other individuals (or peers) who are also living with a mental illness). I worked at the Partial Hospitalization Program for two years (from 2007-2009).
I was having a hard time with thinking there were people in my bedroom at night and thought it might be a good idea to get a dog to train to bark or alert me if there was actually someone there. Enter Riley! I brought Riley home on May 6th, 2009, during the midst of a relapse with my mental illness. Because of this relapse, I ended up quitting my job at the end of June of 2009.
So I have basically been at home since then. Riley has kept me active since being out of work and has, more importantly, kept my mind healthy! Doing therapy dog work with her has given me an opportunity to “give back” to my community.
I am still active with NAMI. I am a NAMI Peer-to-Peer Mentor, State Trainer, and National Trainer. I travel all over the country doing trainings for them. I do a few trainings a year for them.
I received my “Pre-Nursing” program completion certificate from the local community college in 2011. I planned on starting LPN nursing school at a local hospital’s program in July of 2013. I took the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) and even had an interview with them before deciding that it would be too much to take on.
My sister, Amanda (also known as Riley’s “Aunt Baddy”), had a baby girl named Bailey on July 26th, 2012. I watch her a few days a week while my sister and brother-in-law work.
So that’s a little bit about me!