My PSDit Joey

Monday, October 24, 2016

Next Generation Award Speech 10/21/16

This post includes the text and video of the speech I gave at the 2016 YWCA Tribute to Women Gala where I was honored with the Next Generation Award. Enjoy!
Speech given: 10/21/16

I feel so honored to be celebrating with such an outstanding group of people tonight. I'd like to thank the women of the YWCA for all they do to empower women and girls to be the best they can be and to work hard to make a difference. Thank you for organizing this inspiring evening and bringing the community together. 

Today I've been reflecting on how I got to this point, where I feel comfortable sharing my obstacles to encourage others. I've realized that it's the people in my life and what they've taught me about giving, courage, and loving unconditionally that has shaped who I am and what I hope for the future.

Some of the most caring and dedicated individuals I've met on my journey are the mental health specialists who have been helping me heal and cope with my struggles. They have truly gone out of their way to get to know me as a person, not me as a diagnosis, and they make sure I'm getting the best treatment possible. Thank you to all who have worked with me and shown me that I can live with mental illness but still pursue my dreams.

I truly wouldn't be standing in this spot tonight if it weren't for Eva, Sari, Julie, and all those involved with the TMI Project. Sharing my story with the group of strangers in my workshop was the most liberating experience I had ever had. I finally understood that everyone has something in their past that they feel afraid to talk about, and I wasn't alone. Knowing that I could help others by sharing my experience made me feel like I could make a difference in the world, and that was a feeling I never thought I would have again. They've taught me that every person has a voice. And many times, the strongest voices come from those who believe they should remain silent.

Thank you to my beautiful friends. They have been there to support me on my best and worst days, and have never made me feel like having a mental illness makes me a different person. When I was in the hospital, they would send flowers and cards, but when they'd call or visit me, our conversations were no different than if we had been out to lunch. All my friends have played a part in making sure I stay true to who I am.

I've been blessed with the most supportive and accepting family who has shown me so much loyalty and love. My younger brother and sister, both teenagers, have been so strong over these past few years, and they probably don't know how much their older sister actually looks up to them. Tonight I have my Uncle Cappy and Aunt Donna here, as well as my Grandma, who also happens to be my stunning guest. I was close with them all far before my mental illness, and when things did become difficult, they stayed by my side and offered their help without a second thought. I also have extended family like my cousins Ellen and Laurel who came into my life after hearing about my struggles because they genuinely cared about me and wanted to offer support. Thank you to everyone in my family. You've all stepped up when most people would step out.

I know that I had someone watching over me last year when I met my psychiatric service dog, Joey. He has been able to restore so much that I had lost when I developed my illness. I can go out in public by myself now, stay home alone, and drive at night. Things I wasn't sure I'd ever get back. He's inspired me to educate about service dogs and advocate for myself and others. I know that with Joey by my side, I can accomplish anything. Thank you, my sweet, slightly lazy, ice cream loving best friend.

Above all, my parents have had the biggest impact on where I am today. They are the examples of the person I strive be and display the qualities I'd like to help bring out in others: understanding, selflessness, courage, and perseverance. They've taught me the most valuable lesson I know. My past and present struggles don't define who I am and shouldn't stop me from being generous, determined, and the best woman I can be. What matters most is the kindness I show to myself and the kindness I show to others. Thank you Mom and Dad, you are both my heroes.

When I first became ill and for over 2 years after, I would lay in bed at night and think, "Why is this is happening to me." Now with the support, encouragement, and acceptance I've received from others, I've been able to take control over my life and embrace my journey. Now, when I lay in bed at night I think about how grateful I am that my life has turned out this way. Everyone deserves that kind of transformation. Everyone deserves to find their strength. And everyone deserves to be heard. I have found my hope, and now I want to give it to others.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Service dog speech 10/9/16

In May of 2013, right after I turned 21, I suddenly developed a severe anxiety disorder that made it almost impossible for me to go out in public, drive, or stay home alone. By December of that year, I had spent almost 3 months total in different psychiatric hospitals. I had gained nearly 40 pounds, watched my long term relationship end, and had to painfully withdraw from my senior year at SUNY New Paltz. 
For more than a year after my last hospital stay, I spent my days in big sweatshirts and doctors appointments. When I went out, I'd have to be so medicated that I would sometimes fall asleep in restaurants or at my little sister's basketball games. I watched as my friends got engaged as graduated college. I would think over and over about why this happened to me. Why were my dreams for my future ripped away from me?
My life completely changed the day my mom learned about psychiatric service dogs. They could learn tasks to help people with anxiety disorders like mine live more fulfilling lives. In February 2015, our research led us to find Joey, a 5 month old Collie. His trainer is working with him to learn specific tasks that will help me become more independent whether out in public and at home. Even though he's still learning, he has already helped me in so many ways. I'm more focused and energized because I don't need to be so medicated. I'm more active and outgoing because I feel comfortable going out in public when he's with me. Within the past few weeks I've even felt confident enough to apply to finish my degree. When I got him, my goal was to live like I had before my mental illness. Joey has already exceeded that goal. I am a better person than I was before, and I know I can be an advocate and change the world with him right by my side. 
Other people with mental illness should be able to have the same opportunity as myself to have a psychiatric service dog. These incredible dogs vastly improve the lives of those who have already been through so much. By being here today, you're not only helping raise money, but you're also showing people with psychiatric disorders that they have support from their communities. Knowing that I have a strong support system has been crucial to my recovery. Thank you for being here and for showing that people with invisible illness don't have to be invisible.

Speech given: 10/9/16 at Rockin' 4 Ryan fundraising concert