From Rags to Riches in Happiness

Jessie Tegan Milton*

Web-only article from "Housing and Homelessness" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 4 (1)

stock photoI've never really been free from mental illness. I was sexually abused at seven and developed schizoaffective disorder1 in my teens. I've been self-harming since the age of 12, and I struggle with intense anxiety, which often causes agoraphobia.

My descent into homelessness really started 10 years before I became homeless - when I received my diagnosis. My family was made my primary caregivers. While I appreciate my family's help, I wouldn't recommend any consumer or family member accept this role. Family members are usually untrained and unable to handle the emotions involved. They have enough burden just having a sick loved one.

About four months before I became homeless, I stopped taking my medication. I thought that, without it, I could move out on my own and no one could stop me.

When I became homeless, I felt independent and free. To be happy being homeless, you have to be carefree about possessions or what happens next. I was happy sleeping on the side of highways and in remote bus shelters.

I was homeless for little more than a week, when I met a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) street intervention worker in Kelowna. She turned my life around.

The street worker helped me understand that without my medication I was delusional and paranoid, which made many things more difficult for me. I was scared of the downtown scene, so would travel by transit bus to the outskirts of the city to sleep - the opposite direction from the services I needed. Most of the time, I was so paranoid I wouldn't go to the soup kitchens or use public washrooms.

I had started self-harming again. When the street intervention worker saw the fresh cuts on my body, she immediately took steps to get me medicated, off the streets, and into the local psychiatric ward. I was reluctant to go back on medication, but I did and my paranoia and delusions subsided.

After a short stay in the psych ward, I was placed in a transitional home. Currently, I am on a disability pension and living in a semi-assisted mental health housing unit. Shortly, I'll be moving to more independent mental health housing.

I fill my days by sitting in the park or the library, reading, listening to the radio, walking and taking part in activities at the local CMHA clubhouse. At the clubhouse, I make extensive use of the healthy meal program. A supportive art program there is best thing I've ever had in my life. All this offers me a good quality of life in a fashion I can manage.

Sometimes I really want to return to work. I was working in a warehouse before I became homeless. I realize, though, through my support team, that maybe work is not for me at this time, and full-time work probably won't happen. It's my job right now to take care of myself and stay out of the hospital.

I sometimes feel I'm a burden on society, but my support team is helping me realize that I deserve happiness - I repeat this affirmation multiple times a day. The biggest barrier to happiness is allowing myself to feel it.

 
About the author

Jessie is a mental health consumer living in Kelowna. Currently, he is working on himself. He hopes one day to help others with mental health problems.

*pseudonym

 

Footnote:
  1. In schizoaffective disorder, symptoms of both mood disorder and psychosis are present.

 

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