I was a member of the autumn brigade—every year I returned to school in September. So, too, the major changes in my recovery happened in the fall. Year three began with a move to an apartment program—the next highest level in the residential system. With this new habitat came certain freedoms: I no longer had a curfew, saw a counselor only once a week, and shopped for groceries on my own. I lived with one roommate on the 11th floor of a housing project whose hallways were littered with crack vials. Hey, at the time it was a step up!
Shortly after I moved in, the New York State agency that helped people with disabilities find work—known as OVR at the time—sent me to the International Center for the Disabled (ICD) for three weeks of testing. They accepted me into their six-month clerical training program. Work as a secretary was a far cry from the coveted magazine editor positions I once pursued as an English major, but I knew it was my ticket out of the mental health system.
No longer attending the day program, I commuted into the City five days a week to attend classes in business math, typing, filing and word processing. To celebrate this small victory, I bought a black vinyl messenger bag to carry my journal, a packed lunch, and Sony Walkman.
Life was good, very good. As I made my way in the world, I started to hook up with friends I’d met at the halfway house who were also branching out. Margot—a dynamic free spirit with bipolar—would go with me on non-alcoholic pub crawls in search of the perfect key lime pie and potential boyfriends. On such weekend duets in the City I saw what it was like out there, and I hungered to fully integrate into society. I wanted the whole deal: a job, a car, and an apartment—all markers of success.
At this stage in my recovery, I continued to see my doctor and my therapist, and made trips home to visit my family. Throughout the winter and into the spring, I attended the training. In June, I got an internship at McGraw-Hill, and after that I started to go on job interviews.
Year Three: Flowering Self-Expression is indeed the time to start moving outside of our limitations. I went shopping for career clothes with one of the female counselors, and built a wardrobe that would take me places. To boost my mood, I went to a department store makeup counter and treated myself to a lipstick. I wore it religiously. It was something of a good luck charm. I was wearing it on the interview that lead to my first job offer.
In August 1990, I started work as the administrative assistant to the director at an insurance brokerage. My life hummed along. I blended in with my blue power suits. I saved money towards the rent and security deposit on a studio.
This was the breaking-away year. I felt good about myself, and thought maybe I didn’t have the illness after all. Was I misdiagnosed? How could I be sick if I could hold a job and the other residents couldn’t? With a laser precision, I focused on my goal of moving out.
In your third year of recovery, consider volunteering, or training for a job or getting part-time work. To feel productive, nothing beats getting up each day and looking forward to going outside and interacting with people.
Enjoy this free-flowing year. Try on for size a new goal or two, and remember to write them down and review them. This could be one of the best times to express yourself fluently. Take healthy risks. Join a support group to get feedback and inspiration.
Right here I’ll say one thing: this 10-Year Recovery Model can be loosely followed. Each moment in our movement towards wellness is fluid and shifting, and can happen sooner or later. I know someone who started volunteering two years after she got sick, and then, armed with this experience, found a job as a peer advocate and today is doing quite well.
Give yourself a generous time frame. You wouldn’t expect to lose 30 lbs. in 30 days if you went on a diet; neither is recovery a quick solution to an illness whose roots most likely go back far before your first hospitalization or breakdown.
Join me in the next blog entry for a look at my fourth year in recovery, and learn why I think it’s a pivotal year for making decisions that could impact your mental health.
Published On: March 12, 2007