Joey

Joey
My PSDit Joey

Sunday, September 10, 2017

World Suicide Prevention Day 2017 and Project Semicolon

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and for so many people around the world, it's a day where they remember a person close to them or their community who lost his or her life to suicide. Some people will reach out with support to someone who has or had suicidal ideation. Some people will reflect back to a time when they were suicidal. All of these scenarios are covered in Project Semicolon: Your Story Isn't Over, described by people who have been touched by suicide. Started by Amy Bleuel, the Semicolon has become a globally recognized symbol for suicide awareness, representing that someone's story could have ended, but he or she decided to keep going.

I was excited for the book to finally be published, as I learned last year that a piece I wrote about my journey with mental illness would be included in the book. I explained how I found hope when I found my psychiatric service dog, Joey. Even though my story wasn't about suicide, I submitted it, hoping that mine and Joey's journey together could inspire people to keep going and show them that things will get better. Maybe people will research how psychiatric service dogs can change their lives too. Joey helped me realize that my hopes and dreams could still come true. He helped me uncover the strength and fight that I still had inside me. I want other people to read this book and understand that their stories or a loved one's story isn't over, and they are not alone ❤️
-Allie



Monday, August 7, 2017

My Journey with Joey

Joey has been my faithful companion and loyal friend since February of 2015. He began training to become my psychiatric service dog to help me lead a more independent and fulfilling life by learning tasks to help me manage my severe anxiety disorder. He would accompany me to stores, restaurants, gas stations, or anywhere else in public that my anxiety had prohibited me from going. He was my date to several events and inspired me to speak openly about my mental illness and educate people about stigma and the use of psychiatric service dogs. On our journey together, we met incredible people and found love and support from our community and from all over the country; I'm beyond thankful.

A lot has changed in my life within the past year and a half. After several years of drastic medication changes, my doctors finally found the correct combination. This balance allowed me to develop coping skills and focus on my treatment. I was discharged from the intensive therapy program I had been in for nearly 2 years. I re-enrolled in college where I'm pursuing a degree in Community and Human Services. My mind and body are growing healthier, and I've found confidence in myself again.

As my mental health has improved, I've found that I haven't had to rely so heavily on Joey. He has become more of an emotional support dog over the last several months. I often get asked, “Where's Joey?” when people see me out. When I answer that he is home, some people look disappointed, but really, it is a positive thing for me to be out in public as an independent young woman. Although Joey is not currently acting as my service dog, I know that he could do this for me if I ever need this type of support again.

Even though I'm not using a psychiatric service dog at this time, Joey and I will continue to raise awareness and support for psychiatric service dogs and emotional support dogs. We will forever fight for those with mental illness and work to end stigma. I will continue to use Facebook and Instagram as a way to educate and connect with people. As I write this, Joey sits by my side (hoping I drop some of my dinner). Joey has been by my side every step of the way, and he will always remain by my side. For whatever the future holds, he will always be my rock, my hero, and my best friend.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

4 years later

Yesterday I drove an hour north to Troy to attend an overnight Governance Retreat for SUNY Empire State College. I represented my region on the Student Affairs Committee, as the primary representative couldn't make it. I had the most amazing time meeting faculty, staff, and students from all around the state. The experience motivated me to keep working hard in my studies and encouraged me to get more involved in student life.

As I drove home today, I reflected on my journey. Last week was the 4 year anniversary of when my family and I realized I had a mental illness. If you’re familiar with my battle with an anxiety disorder, you'd know that going on this trip would've been impossible for me, even just a year ago. I faced serious issues and obstacles during my battle with mental illness, but for me, nothing was as painful as the day I had to withdraw from my senior year of classes at SUNY New Paltz. I was just 30 credits away from my Bachelors degree.  As much as I wanted to explore what was around me and experience adulthood, my priority throughout my recovery was feeling safe. I wasn't going to push myself to the point of jeopardizing the recovery process. I’m glad I took the time to rebuild my strength and discover which coping mechanisms work for me.

I spent the drive today thinking about how far I've come in 4 years and how much I want people with mental illness to have these peaceful and happy reflections. Both those with psychiatric disorders and those without need to understand that a chemical imbalance in the brain or experiencing trauma should not determine one’s future or limit one’s potential. That is why I speak. That is why I write. That is why I will always share my story.

The rest is still unwritten...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Reflecting on turning points: TMI Project


In January, I officially became a college student again. For a couple years, I hadn't even considered returning to school to be a realistic goal for myself. By the summer of 2016, I finally felt confident and prepared enough to look into finishing my bachelor's degree. By November, I was accepted to SUNY Empire State College, ready to pursue a degree in Community and Human Services.
Now, in the middle of March, I have just begun my second class in the program. One of these classes is Crisis Intervention. For our "icebreaker" post, we were asked to write about a turning point in our lives, a time that we felt nervous or uncertain but resulted in something fantastic. One of the most incredible turning points in my life was when I decided to sign-up for a TMI Project memoir writing workshop; it truly changed my life and changed the way I thought about my journey with mental illness. I wanted to use my blog to publically share what I wrote for my icebreaker discussion:
Crisis Intervention- Turning points
I believe that the most important and definitive aspects of my life have been the results of turning points. The largest obstacle I have faced in my life has been coping with and healing from a sudden and severe anxiety disorder I developed at 21, right after my Junior year of college ended in 2013. Since then, I have confronted several turning points as I have been getting my life back and learning about who I am as an adult and what I want out of life.

 In 2015, I learned about the TMI Project. This nonprofit comes to the facility where I attend therapy and hosts a 10-week workshop where people meet to write about their personal stories which are then formed by the directors into individual 8-minute monologues. The workshop concludes with a performance of these personal monologues to an audience. The thought of opening-up to a small group of strangers in the workshop was unnerving enough, but imagining sharing my story a room full of people and then having the video on posted to YouTube terrified me. Despite my reservations, I took a chance and signed up for the workshop beginning at the end of September.

Each week I attended, I became increasingly comfortable with the other members of the group and slowly realized that this experience was changing the way I felt about myself and my illness. The monologue made from my pieces was perfect, and when the day of the performance arrived, I felt more at ease and confident than I could have imagined. Sharing my story that day resulted in an incredible chain of events. I started a blog about mental illness, was invited by the TMI Project to read that monologue at many various events, became the recipient of the YWCA of Ulster County’s Next Generation Award, applied to SUNY Empire State College to pursue a degree in Community and Human Services, and was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the YWCA of Ulster County. My life has not taken the path I had originally planned, but I could not be more thankful. It was at that crucial turning point where I discovered my strength and my passion for helping others.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Valentine's Day and mental health

Valentine's Day can bring up many different emotions for people. Some look forward to February 14th and others dread it. Some make romantic plans for the day and others choose not to celebrate it. Throughout the years, I've experienced each of these feelings.

Whether or not someone has a mental illness, this time of year can amplify feelings of loneliness or hopelessness. Through the beginning of February, virtually every store has displays or aisles of red decorations, boxes of chocolates, sentimental cards, teddy bears, and various stuffed animals that dance to old love songs when you press a button. It can be overwhelming. Even if someone doesn't agree with the commercialism of the holiday or even the holiday in general, these things can become a reminder that he or she doesn't have a significant other or romantic partner in his or her life.

In 2015 and 2016, I was single on Valentine's Day. I was also working on my healing and learning how to cope with my severe anxiety disorder. As many jokes as I made about "Singles Awareness Day" or as many times as I told myself that February 14th was just another day, it would still sting to see Valentine's decorations, jewelry commercials, engagement announcements, or Facebook posts about being in love. Although it was difficult to accept, I knew that it was crucial to make my mental health the priority on those Valentine's Days. In 2015 and 2016, I made it through the holiday in 2 different ways.

2015:  This was an extremely difficult time in my life. Not only was it the first Valentine's Day being single in 4 years, but I was also withdrawing from a semester of college that was just too overwhelming for me at the time. The combination of these factors gave me depressed and disappointed feelings. That year, my parents helped me stay strong by giving me a stuffed animal and candy and by sending me quotes about strength throughout the day. They showed me the importance of loving, respecting, and being kind to myself. I decided to treat myself to my favorite lunch, made a batch of brownies to share with my family, and curled up with my kitten to watch a feel-good movie (I believe it was something with Adam Sandler). I took the day to take care of myself and remind myself that I am strong, brave, and deserving of the best kind of love. That year I was my own valentine, and that was the kind of love I needed most.

2016:  By February of 2016, my mental health was in a much better place. I had begun blogging and speaking openly about my mental illness, so I felt more confident and hopeful for the future. Although I was not seeing anyone or in a relationship, I was still surrounded by love that Valentine’s Day. This year, I decided to spend the day making little gifts for my friends and family to show them how much I loved and appreciated them. They had been there for me during my hardest times, and I was so thankful. That night, my family gave each other the little valentines we had made over Chinese takeout then had Valentine’s Day cupcakes and watched Food Network. Being with the ones I care about made me remember that my happiness wasn’t defined by my relationship status. I would fall in love again one day, but if I just sat around waiting for that to happen, I would miss out on so many other incredible life experiences. My family and friends were my valentines that year, and I felt extremely loved and cared for.

This Valentine’s Day, I am thankful that I was patient and waited for the right one. In September, I wrote an article about dating with a mental illness. I mentioned that online dating wasn’t for me because of my anxiety. Just over a month later, my mom finally convinced me to join Match.com. That same night, I came across the profile of the most amazing man. Ethan is the person I hoped I would eventually find: kind, loving, and supportive and understanding of my battle with mental illness. I don’t feel as if I need to hide my struggles from him, and I feel comfortable just being myself.  Meeting him was worth the wait.

To everyone who is single on Valentine’s Day: Be kind to yourself. Tell the ones you love that you care about and appreciate them. Give a valentine to someone who might otherwise not receive one or to someone who is working instead of spending time with family. Celebrate friendship. Treat yourself to a favorite meal. Eat that drug store chocolate that comes in a heart-shaped box. Remember that you are amazing just as you are. Remember that your worth is not determined by your relationship status. Remember that you are deserving of the best love and don’t need to settle or change for anyone. And if you believe that you are ready to find the perfect person, take the chance and try online dating (I recommend Match.com)!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
-Allie

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bring it on 2017

On New Year's Eve 2015, I remember saying, “Bring it on 2016.” I had no idea at the time that 2016 would be the most incredible year of my life. In no way would I like to use this post to brag, but I would like to use my experiences to provide hope to others and to let people know that each day provides new opportunities.

After sharing my story through the TMI Project in Dec. 2015, I began writing and sharing more about my battle with mental illness. I started writing more about my personal struggles on the Facebook page I had for my psychiatric service dog in training, Joey, and it now has over 3,200 followers. Then I felt comfortable enough to start my own mental health blog where I discuss issues people with mental illness face. I also opened up about some of the more difficult parts of my journey like my hospitalizations. Letting people into my life in this way opened the doors to my future.

I quickly fell in love with writing, and it built my confidence knowing that I could educate people and fight stigma. I had my first piece published in April by MTV Founders then I began submitting work to The Mighty who has published 4 of my articles about life with mental illness.

Throughout the year, I continued to do work with the TMI Project by reading my story for different audiences and speaking with groups about my experience with writing and having a psychiatric disorder. In May, I traveled with them to Buffalo, NY to help with a day-long narrative writing workshop for groups like AmeriCorps. Going to TMI performances and seeing people's’ lives change by sharing their stories has further inspired me to be an advocate and activist for mental health issues.

My biggest surprise came in July when I found out that I would be the recipient of the YWCA of Ulster County’s Next Generation Award at their 2016 Tribute to Women Gala in October. I couldn’t believe that the work I was doing was really making a difference in the community. Amazing connections were made with the women of the YWCA who encouraged me to do more work for my community. I participated in a fundraiser for service dogs and made a speech about how my psychiatric service dog, Joey, has changed my life. In December, my friends and I organized a project to make encouraging holiday cards for people in Ulster County who are struggling with mental health issues during this holiday season. I’m looking forward to further working with my community in 2017.

Although I was happy with where my life was going, two subjects I had written about were not finishing college and being single at 24-years-old. By October, I was ready to make some decisions in my life that scared me a little… maybe a lot. I applied to go back to school to finish my degree and signed up for a dating site (thanks for the push mom). Taking both of those chances definitely paid off. In January, I will be beginning classes at SUNY Empire State College, working toward a B.A. in Community and Human Services, and I feel ready and excited. When it comes to the dating site, I hit the jackpot and met the most amazing man on the very first night. Ethan is supportive, caring, and the man I’ve always dreamed of finding. I feel so blessed to be celebrating the new year with him tonight.
There is no denying that 2016 was a very hard and devastating year for so many. I’ve realized though that I can still make a difference in my life and my community, and so can you. Find your cause and find your passion. I want those with mental illness to know that their lives are far from over. They can overcome their obstacles and aren’t defined by their past struggles. In 2013, I was so sick that I could barely sit down to read or write without my brain feeling so overwhelmed. In the end, it was writing that made me realize that I can do great things in this world. So again I will say, “Bring it on 2017.” And this year I want others to discover the same hope that I have found.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Our holiday card project. Your voice can make a difference.

During the periods of my life when I have struggled the most with my mental illness, I've always had a strong and devoted support system who have been there to encourage me and remind me that I'm loved and that I will get through the difficult times. Not everyone dealing with mental illness has that same level of support, and the holiday season can make them feel more isolated.
This year, The Cassie Cares Project (made up of me and my friends) wants to give the community and people online the chance to provide some much needed kindness to some people in Ulster County in NY who are battling mental illness.

We will be making holiday cards with encouraging messages inside to distribute to the people involved with MHA of Ulster County. We want these messages to come from the community or anyone who has some kind words to share. This is a way you can directly brighten someone's holiday.
Below are some starters you can use (as many as you choose) to share a nice message of any length you'd like. You can also email in a message that doesn't use the prompts. Any kind words of support or encouragement will be greatly appreciated.

Your life matters because…
You are strong because…
I support you because…
We care for you because…
You deserve to have a happy holiday because…

You can send us your message through a direct message on Facebook (either on the Joey's Journey or The Cassie Cares Project pages), my personal Facebook account if we are friends, or by emailing cassiecaresproject@gmail.com. You can choose to keep it anonymous or let us know if you'd like your first name included at the end. Please let me know if you have any questions!

Statistics estimate that 20-25% of US adults will face a mental health issue within their lifetimes. I'm sure you can think of someone who has been touched by mental illness; if you can't, there is a good chance that someone you know is struggling in silence. Here is your chance to show support this holiday season. People don't choose to develop a mental illness, but we can all choose to be kind.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Happy holidays,
The Cassie Cares Project