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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 7/7/2008

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Elvira E. Sears's Story

Elvira E. SearsI thought my life was just beginning. I'd finished college a few years earlier, and was working on a research project. Then, symptoms started appearing, and my life came to a standstill. I had to be reminded what to do when I woke up... to brush my teeth, to wash up. The man I was living with at the time started staying home with me, and we both sought help through his employee assistance provider. The psychologist there suggested I go to one of the area hospitals. This was my first of about six psychiatric hospitalizations.

My diagnosis was schizophrenia. After the hospitalization, I continued with therapy and medication. I continued trying to work, but I couldn't keep a job very long. I tried clerical work, proofreading, waitressing. I even tried substitute teaching (I had gotten a teaching degree as "something to fall back on") but my illness caused me to treat the students inappropriately.

One of my psychiatrists suggested I try to get a civil service job. At first I was reluctant, because I thought I'd be working with people like me. Eventually, I started working with people with mental retardation. There was a provision in the job that allowed me to take off 12 weeks if I worked 1250 hours. That leave helped considerably, and I kept that job for about 11 years.

I had a very bad day treatment experience in 1998. At the day treatment program in New York, someone committed suicide. I had to leave after that, and I went home to Florida, thinking my life was over. I was cut off from my medication, and I constantly thought about death and dying.

A psychiatric assessment center helped me find a source of medication again. The center also ran a day treatment program. Despite my doubts after my last day treatment, I ended up going there. And even to this day I miss it. It was the best.

This program was great because it was long-term (I stayed from July 1998 to February 1999) and because the people were really caring. I had a car and could drive myself, but the occupational therapist always said to me, "We'll pick you up." This was so helpful because I had to be up, showered, and ready for the car at 8:30. It got me out of bed.

The day program was instrumental in me securing a volunteer position at a place that helps find housing for people with special needs, mental illness. I volunteered there for approximately four years. Now I work there part-time. I help people with mental illness find housing, and it's something I want to do. It's a far cry from the other jobs I've had. I never thought I'd be paid to talk on the phone!

In addition to my work, I volunteer for the Mental Health Association and facilitate a Schizophrenics Anonymous support group. I think being busy and having something to do is important. I still spend some time at home, but I try to get out every day.

When a person is ill, it's important to have the support of family and friends. I stayed away from my family for 22 years thinking that if I came home, they'd lock me away in an asylum. But to my surprise, they were very supportive. Of course, some are less supportive than others. There are people who say "Theres nothing wrong with you. You're just spoiled." But there are always going to be people who don't accept it. A mental illness isn't like a physical handicap—you can't see it.

Drop-in centers are very important places for consumers to go as an alternative to isolating themselves at home. Presently I attend and am active member at three drop-in-centers including 9 Muses Art Center, in Lauderhill, FL; REBELS Drop-in-Center in Hollywood, FL; and the Personal Empowerment Education and Recreation (PEER) Center in Oakland Park, FL. Before leaving New York to help in my recovery I also attended drop-in-centers there.

I used to think I was doomed. I used to talk about how I would prepare for my funeral. Looking back on that now, I feel marvelous. As long as there's life, there's hope.

Elvira E. Sears

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.