Updated: May 6, 2019
It’s hard to wrap your head around what’s going on in another person’s mind, let alone if that person has mental illness. But this month, Mental Health Awareness Month—and every day at Big Sister League of San Diego—we try. To shed light on these efforts, we’re sharing one residents’ journey in four candid perspectives, starting with the most important one of all: Deb’s own.
The circumstances of mental illness aren’t always black and white, but they can be related to something that is: a domino—or a domino effect, that is.
Like several women who suffer from this disease, that was the case for Deb*. She’s suffered from the symptoms for what felt like light years before she got a diagnosis.
“I remember being in the third grade and not wanting to live. I’ve lived with that all of my life, because I have PTSD from childhood trauma.”
Sexual abuse and assault was Deb’s first-known domino. The second to fall came at just 10 years of age: Drugs to deal with the pain.
“I’ve been an addict since then,” she says. “I started smoking pot when I was 10.”
Then came mushrooms, LSD, cocaine, and even heroine—“I tired it one time, and thank god I didn’t like it.”
As it turns out, alcohol did the trick. “It was cheap and easy to get.”
But it also eventually got her in and out of the hospital—including three times in a two months—and once hospitalized under a 5150.
“I always feel I was medicating my mental health problems with the alcohol, but I would drink until the ambulance showed up.”
After the hospitalizations, and her family intervening and pleading, she’d give treatment centers a try—nine times, total.
At one of her stays, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, something Deb identifies as another domino and, to a degree, a riddle resolved.
“Mental health challenges can come from two places,” she explains. “I have it organically and from life experience.”
It wasn’t one, but two dominos—bipolar disorder and childhood trauma—that jumpstarted her journey of mental illness, pushing her down a path of addiction and then that addiction pushing her down a path of homelessness.
“I’ve had what feels like a million jobs, and a million place to lives. I’ve been homeless, but I’ve never laid my head on the concrete.”
That’s because she’s always been sound enough to find shelter, sound enough to pick up that domino piece and stand it back up, just like when four and a half years ago she called the number provided to her on a flier at a treatment center. It was for BSL.
"It seemed like the perfect fit for me. What I remember from the flier, what drove me to this place, was the feeling it would get me off the street and be supportive in filling my mental health needs. It was such a niche. … I didn’t need another treatment center, another place to tell me what to do and where to be. I needed a place where I could take care of business and have a safe place to return to, a place that held my hand. ”
The only roadblock was that Deb needed to be six months sober to qualify to live in the houses.
Of sound mind, she was determined to pick up another domino, her alcoholism, to get in. She hunkered down in another shelter and stayed sober 182 days before she picked up the phone and made a call that changed the rest of her life.
On the other end of the line? A BSL staff member saying, “Come now, it’s your time.”
Next week, our staff weighs in on Deb’s progression at our residence.
(*Name changed for anonymity)