The Long and Winding Road to Recovery
by Jean J. Esplin

In the summer of 1993, I became homeless. I left my husband with 13 cents to my name and moved into a domestic violence shelter. Although I had difficulties before and had been hospitalized after suicide attempts in 1983 and 1992, I had managed to stay out of the public mental health system. It was during my month in the shelter that I really started to unravel. It was almost as if I had kept such a tight lid on my emotions during my marriage that everything just bubbled over uncontrollably once I was out of that situation.

 I had no money and was in no shape to keep a job, so after my time in the domestic violence shelter ended, I was forced to move to a homeless shelter. It was quite a shock to me. Previous to this I had graduated from college and worked as a newspaper reporter and a substitute teacher. I was totally unprepared for the homeless culture.

 In September 1993 I attempted suicide again and only survived by a series of lucky coincidences. I woke up in intensive care and spent the next six weeks moving in and out of hospitals and crisis stabilization units. I was eventually stabilized enough that I was able to leave the hospital and moved into another shelter. During the next year I was homeless, moving from shelter to shelter and sometimes sleeping on people's couches.

 It wasn't until September 1994 that I was approved for SSDI payments. At that time I moved into a residential program, which was the only housing really available in my county at the time for people with low income and no credit.

 I hated the program. I was 30 years old and had been on my own since the age of 18. I was used to doing things my own way and I bitterly resented staff's right to enter my apartment at any time without asking my permission. To me, it wasn't my home, it was theirs. I was only a guest.

 In March, 1996, I was finally able to get an apartment of my own. I found out later that I didn't actually qualify for the apartment, but the manager was required to rent a certain number of apartments by a certain date and moved me in fully expecting to evict me within a few months. I still live in that apartment.

 It wasn't until September, 1999 that I began working again. I was working part-time supervising a consumer-run call-in information center. As a result of that, I was offered a full-time job in February the next year. I have been working for ValueOptions, the company that has the Medicaid-level mental health contact for Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona ever since. I was first employed in the customer service department and a year later moved to training. I specialize in doing training classes and special events for consumers and family members. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to co-organize four statewide consumer conferences. I am also secretary of the Arizona Department of Health Services/Division of Behavioral Health Services Consumer Advisory Board and served as chair in 2000. I have presented workshops at Alternatives once and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) twice.

Going back to work has been very challenging for me, and I have been hospitalized twice since returning to work. It has also made wonderful changes in my life. When I was on disability, I believed I had a full time. Now I look back and realize how empty my time was. Getting a car provided me with opportunities for social interaction I would never have had otherwise. Today I am a member of a church, play in a lesbian Scrabble league, am a member of a LGBT square dance club and volunteer for a lesbian game night. I also serve on the LGBT committee for the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

I still have my challenges. As I said, I have been hospitalized twice since returning to work and sometimes have to take a couple of mental health days to keep going. I am taking medication, but trying to keep it to a minimum and seeing a therapist twice a week, a chiropractor three times a week and an alternative healing practitioner as needed.

 It's been a long journey with a lot of unpredictable turns and changes, but I'm glad I have made it. In many ways, my recovery has opened up facets of myself I might never have examined otherwise.

Jean J. Esplin, Training and Education Center, 1225 E. Broadway, #190 Tempe, AZ 85282 480 731-1043