I can clearly remember sitting in an Individualized Education Planning (IEP) meeting at my school, an alternative school discussing with "my" team the best option for my future. The question was one of mainstreaming. Was I "ready" to go back to a mainstream high school (was the high school "ready" for me)?
A number of the members were hesitant, noting that I seemed to be benefiting from the "supports" of alternative placement and noting that if I were to enter into a typical high school I may need the "support" of a self-contained behavior disorder classroom within the mainstream high school. At the time, I really wished to reintegrate into a traditional classroom. I thought I could do it, and made this clear. My counselor at the time turned to the other team members and commented on the progress I had made as well as my academic status and asked if maybe instead we could try honors classes. Out of everyone in the room, I felt most supported by her.
Oftentimes, people have tried to support me by trying to take away sources of stress and responsibility. For example, during a time when I was struggling to find employment it was often suggested to me that I apply for social security benefits despite the truth that my disability was not interfering with my ability to work. This often gives me a sense of being controlled, as though my goals are out of reach, and has not been helpful.
What has been infinitely more helpful is when individuals have done just what my counselor did at that IEP meeting. By advocating for me to be able to work towards my goals to the highest of my abilities, and receiving outside help only to aid my own efforts rather than as a substitute. That kind of approach empowers me to be as independent as I can.
As I've moved on from high school and through college, I have learned to seek out these kinds of supports based on whatever challenges I may be having at the time and have found many. My mental health challenges, for example, often interfere with my ability to sleep. This said, it is extremely important that I have enough sleep so that I can maintain my stability. It helps for me to be able to rise and fall asleep at around the same times each day. Simply letting my roommate know of this before we moved in together and ensuring that she was willing to do what she can to let that happen erased some of that barrier and supported me in being able to live independently and stay healthy.
have been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder since the age of 16. I have always attended therapy and gone to the doctor who prescribes my medications, though it took me a while before I found the right medicine for me, and until I found the right therapist who I am comfortable with.
Back when I was first diagnosed at age 16 I wasn't aware of very many resources, but now I know about a lot of resources available. Vocational rehabilitation is one resource for those that have any kind of disability that need help with bus transportation, finding a job, independent living, and more. A lot of agencies out there can help those with disabilities find a mentor, a job, and housing (apartments) such as Charlotte (North Carolina) Housing Authority. Another agency I know about is Mecklenburg Promise, which is a program that offers a lot of help for those with disabilities that need help with finding friends and peer support.
Another agency that I am involved with is the Mental Health Association. Anyone can volunteer with MHA to help their peers get out in the community and find volunteer work. This organization also hosts fun outings like going to the movies and the mall. From time to time they will give out gift cards to the youth and volunteers to have for fun or get something to eat together. And randomly, they will schedule outings with everyone in the group to go different places with each other for fun.
I'm also involved with North Carolina Families United. I learned about them by going to the local NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) conference. NAMI is open to all those with mental illness at all ages. I first met my mentor, who works at North Carolina Families United, at a NAMI conference and she has helped me come a long way from when I was 16. I would have to say the best support and the most helpful support I have is my mentor. Dealing with mental health is not easy because it takes a lot of determination and hard work to reach your goals and dreams. Families United helps youth set up goal planning so that they can reach their goals. Since I first started with my mentor, I have accomplished getting my G.E.D; I'm currently going to go back and finish beauty school and by the end of the year I will have my own place. I am super excited to be living on my own, independently. Since working with my mentor I have also gained more self-confidence by talking with her and actually going in front of large crowds of people to talk about mental illness and the accomplishments I have made in my life. Before I met my mentor, I was very nervous and shy and it was hard for me to speak in front of crowds. But as I worked with my mentor, the older I got I just decided to have confidence within myself and be happy with myself for who I am.
Dealing with a mental health condition takes time and patience because your first step is to get on a medication that works for your individual needs. Then, find a therapist that also suits your individual needs so that your recovery is the best possible and the most successful as you get older. My personal advice for anyone suffering from a mental illness is to seek help because you can't fight it alone. Also, do your research and find as many resources and supports as you can because someone is in your reach to help you. No one with a mental illness is in this alone; help is always there.
What do YOU think?
As an adult working in this field, but still not "out" to employers about my challenges, I believe this is a critical issue. It remains unsafe in many ways to ask for the supports that would make you more effective if you have mental health/cognitive challenges. I have found it is "ok" to ask for accommodations related to physical challenges (e.g., once my diabetes began to pose challenges), however. As one of thos in this industry who will remain "hidden" probably to retirement age, I believe that people like me have a special responsibility to be strong advocates for young people whose challenges are publicly known and who stand to contribute greatly to the community at large as well as to specific employers. We are obligated to take a few extra steps, not just one, to support their dreams and hopes in systems that are quick to negate their potential. Posted Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 07:04 AM
with the challenges we face is there more
important things then WORKING resources?
I'm just so glad that these two young
people found the ones that work for them. Posted Tuesday, May 14, 2013 by chrissy at 07:33 PM