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Mental Health - Kathleen's journey

May 16, 2017

My mental illness wasn’t diagnosed until I was 42. I’m 54 now. My life has been a hard journey to mental health and I want to reach out to others with it.

They say that you have to give it away to keep it, so I give you my story – it is mine.


I grew up in a house with lots of drug addiction and mental illness. My father was an alcoholic and my uncle was schizophrenic. Even as a child my mind would race and race.

I spent years and years being reclusive, and afraid of everyone and everything. And I spent all those years trying to manage my moods with drugs, meds, and booze. So many years …

I had a job as a custodian and had a little daughter, but really I was just hanging on for dear life. I would look at other people and wish I was them. I was smoking crack to feel better. It was big highs and terrible lows and craziness. Both my legs were broken because of my addictions and craziness.

Finally I entered Dawn Farms for treatment of my addictions and was there for 4 months. I heard I’d lost custody of my 4-year-old daughter. Unable to walk, unable to think or talk with anyone, I could only sit and laugh and cry. I felt crazy. I weighed 92 pounds. I still was not dealing with my mental health. I still had a mask on and didn’t want to talk about it.

Mental illness has a big stigma.

My mother, a main person in my life, would say, “You don’t really have that. You’re just hiding behind it.” People think mental illness is shameful and don’t want to talk about it or deal with it. I’ve fought the stigma with myself too – I didn’t want to be a person who needs to be on meds. Many times I stopped my medications myself because I didn’t want to believe I had mental illness. It wouldn’t take long before I relapsed again as my mood got worse.

If you’ve been a drug user, or homeless, or a mother who has lost her child, you know all about stigmas. I was all of these people, and I fight these stigmas.


In 2006 my long journey to mental health brought me to Packard Health. We began to find the right regimen of meds, and I began to take my mask off and talk. I don’t know what I would do without Packard Health. All my services are here, my doctor, my psychiatrist, my therapist, my patient advocate. With my therapist, Amy Rendon, I make plans, set goals such as going to Alanon meetings, and work on managing my illness. My allies are here, people who understand and respect me, people who do not judge me.

In my past I lost jobs. I dropped out of school. I was homeless for years and without a friend in the world. I was so ill. And I didn’t see my daughter for years at a time.

Today I can’t say enough about how my life has changed.

I am now over a year sober from substances, involved in the 12step community and have a sponsor. I look forward to reaching new goals everyday. I have my own place to live. Before, I had no friends, and I distrusted other women so much. Now I have beautiful friendships with women and they are like rocks to me.

I’m taking a course at Home of New Vision to become a recovery coach, and I volunteer weekly as a peer support with women diagnosed with substance abuse and mental illness. So much has been given to me, I want to give back.

In December I met my new grandson. I am getting back in my daughter’s life after so many years. She had me over for Easter and I was so happy, I didn’t want the day to end.

To have friends and family, to be asked to volunteer, to be trusted to babysit and bounce a baby on my knee – it is wonderful.

I have achieved so much, and don’t want to lose it. I give you my story to make it mine.

Kathleen is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety, and Substance Abuse Disorder.

"I'm blown away by her strength, her hope and her perseverance."

~Amy Rendon, Behavioral Health Therapist who has worked with Kathleen for 11 years