If They Could See Me Now!

Kathleen Rhoads Merriam; Kaneohe, HI

During your mental health care, have you often felt hopeless about your chance of getting better?

Yes. I got sick at 17 and thought I was doomed for life. I remember my hopeless days very clearly. I can relate to my fellow consumers that feel this way.

Has a mental health provider ever told you that you could reach a personal goal despite your psychiatric diagnosis (for example, education, career, independent housing, relationship, children, etc.)?

Yes. I had a counselor at a community college tell me that I could stay in college despite my mental health condition. He saw me every week and helped me maintain myself in college. I still send him Christmas cards and thank him. I graduated from that college in 1987. It meant so much that he believed in me.

Has a mental health provider ever told you that you could not reach a personal goal because of your psychiatric diagnosis (for example, education, career, independent housing, relationship, children, etc.)?

Yes, my first psychiatrist told me that I would never be able to work and that I would be on social security for the rest of my life. I remember going to get on SSI…it was an awful experience.

If you overcame hopelessness that you could get better from a mental health or emotional problem, was there a turning point for you? 

While lying in 5 point restraints in a 72-hour holding tank on the way to the State hospital I remember shouting out…”If there is a higher power out there…please listen! If I make it outta here alive and do get better, I promise to devote my life to helping others.” I did make it out of there eventually and did get better. I have been in the helping field ever since. I am very grateful and feel very blessed.

Tell us what recovery means to you. How would you define recovery from mental health or emotional problems in your own words?

Recovery to me is finding my voice and being able to express my opinions about my life and my care. Recovery is being a part of the world again and knowing I have a place in my community and in my family. Recovery is me taking care of my whole self…mind, body, and spirit.

If you could send a brief message to someone receiving mental health care today who is feeling hopeless about getting better, what would you say?

It is such a cliche to say take it one day at a time but I did find that my path got better with each day. Sometimes it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. I did not get better until I decided I really did want to get better. I did have to decide to give some ideas a chance. I had to try different combinations of medications. I spend a lot of time taking care of myself and having better habits like walking and paying attention to what I put into my body. I encourage you to have hope that things will get better even though everything around you feels hopeless now. This is temporary. The pain will decrease. Find other people that have similar feelings because you won’t feel so lonely and don’t have to carry this burden of loneliness alone. I am one of those people…you have me.

Can you give examples showing you have gotten better from a mental or emotional problem, such as how you are doing well or accomplishing goals you have chosen?

I just achieved one of my greatest accomplishments…I just got my Master’s degree in Social Work. So though I have been doing social work for 27 years, I did not have the degree. This was an awesome triumph for me and those that know my journey. I have also done some public speaking and training for psychiatrists which I would have to admit is a task that underneath I have to giggle at myself. Sometimes I want to shout out “If they could see me now!” Mental Health America voted me “Outstanding Government Leader” for my advocacy work in the Mental Health Division and my colleagues voted me “Superior Performance” Award for the work I do for programs for mental health consumers. Working with and for consumers is not a job but a lifestyle. I must do this because of the promise I made while in restraints many years ago… My real success is that I finally got married and keep a home and am an active community member!