Mental illness was fuzzy and unclear in those days and like many, I was living undiagnosed.
It was the day after my birthday and I was having breakfast with a close cousin in Los Angeles. A homeless man came up to the outside eating area in an obvious state of psychosis, mumbling to himself and asking for money. It’s uncommon to see the homeless in a courtyard setting of cafés in this quaint part of town. What’s more uncommon is this gentleman was dressed indecently and looked both mentally and physically unwell. The unsightly image pulled at my heartstrings in ways very few could ever comprehend. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, but I immediately dialed for an ambulance, knowing this was a severe case needing attention.
“[Poetry helped] tap into places and leave behind the horror of hopelessness I never fully understood ...
As my cousin and I were walking back to our cars we saw firemen tending to the gentleman with necessary protocol. But there was something I overheard and couldn’t stop thinking about that probably mimicked the mindset of most that were present during this spectacle. Earlier as the manager of the café was shooing the man away from the customers he said, “No amount of meds can do anything for him.”
At that moment all I could think about was some time ago, when a kind taxi cab driver called the local police on me because I was skipping down Ventura Boulevard talking to myself in an obvious state of psychosis. After repeated questioning, authorities took me to a close family member’s house and eventually an intervention took place at UCLA medical center that would lead me to the path of recovery that I’m on now.
I don’t tell this story often but when I do I always get asked the same question, “Where was your family? How did you end up on the street in the first place?” Yes, I was living drug free in a loving family environment. But I was also living with deep internal pain and severe depression that I kept silent from my parents and siblings. Mental illness was a fuzzy and unclear concept in those days and like many, I was living undiagnosed. I had no clue there was a name for what I was experiencing for several years.
I had never shown the signs of having a break from reality so there was nothing alarming that the average person could detect. But I spiraled into my first manic episode that day with a series of intense delusions and took off without anyone’s knowledge, landing me on the streets 300 miles away from home. That’s how fast that can happen. Thank goodness the cab driver spotted me within 24 hours of my disappearance. Who knows where I would be today if he hadn’t seen me.
As I was seeking recovery, writing poetry was my lifeline and helpline. I could tap into places and leave behind the horror of hopelessness I never fully understood to begin with. I could cry for help. It unleashed my ability to communicate with the outside world while trying to cope with my bipolar symptoms. Poetry was the only place in my brain that I liked myself. I knew I had a chance to feel special with poetry.
Through prayer, positive thinking, poetry, family and medical treatments, recovery reared its wonderful head and empowered me to make a difference. I absolutely had to share hope with others and for me that’s with words, whether speaking publically or writing.
The road of recovery is a journey, not a destination. Yes, it takes determination but also lots of support, whether from doctors, family, friends, the community and sometimes all of the above. It can take months or years to find the right therapy or medications to regain control over basic, every day functioning. But with proper support it can be done. This is why I advocate. This is why NAMI advocates and why there are thousands of hard-working members across the country offering support and fighting for their family members, friends and neighbors living with mental illness.
Apathy comes from unawareness and that’s why spreading awareness is so crucial, why talking about it is essential and why sharing with others what works for you is so important. Sharing our stories reminds us that we’re not alone. The reality of how most of these illnesses can be managed still goes unnoticed by many. Treatment can help many severe cases, but a strong support structure is paramount. NAMI is working to keep that conversation going and offering that support by showing that there have been others who have gone through similar experiences and have made it to the road to recovery.
I don’t know how the homeless man got to the severe mental state he was in. Nor do I know what will become of him once the local authorities release him from their care. What I can say is if someone had of seen my spectacle quite some time ago on Ventura Boulevard they may have said the same thing: “No amount of meds can do anything for her.”
With support from my friends and family, with treatments and writing poetry, I’m here. Today, I travel around the country speaking publicly and performing spoken word to let others know there is hope.
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