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.