What Psychiatric Rehabilitation Means to Me

Gina Calhoun
Monday, April 13, 2015 - 10:28am

My Dad’s words still ring in my ears and put a smile on my face.  One day in the midst of despair, I said, “I wish I was well enough to work” to which my Dad replied, “Perhaps work will make you well.”

So this story begins.  There was one time in a 17-year period of back-to-back institutionalizations, where I was able to remain in the community for almost 6 months.  I was on an outpatient commitment, but that is NOT what made the difference!   As part of my so-called mandated treatment plan, I was to attend a partial day program.  My brain just could not figure out how illness-based thinking and conversation would lead to wellness-based action, so I refused to follow the involuntary treatment of someone else’s choosing.

Þ     Not following the outpatient commitment

Þ     Problem for the system

Þ     What are we to do?

Þ     Let’s call a meeting!

The meeting started well.  Staff and leadership acknowledged that perhaps the day program was not going to work for me.  They asked me what service I might be willing to try.  I thought about it for a moment and said, “Any service that helps me get and keep employment would interest me.”  This is the dire prediction I received: “Gina, by not showing up at the day program, you demonstrate no personal responsibility.  You can’t stay out of the hospital and you have no work history.  What makes you think you can hold a job?”  My heart started to sink, but comeback came quickly, “My goal does not revolve around going to the day program and hospitals; my goal is to work, therefore I will be more committed to the process.”

My first job came through a transitional employment service known as AHEDD.  My job was working for the U.S. Census as the "clean-up encourager."  After a census worker tried to get a person or family to fill out their census form 2 times, I took over for one last effort to encourage people to fill out their form, if not for themselves, for their community since this is how federal dollars often get allocated.  I met an 80+ year old woman who said, “I never fill out my form until the third and final census worker comes, because I get three visitors taking time to talk with me.”  I stood in a cornfield…yelling the questions to a farmer who was too busy to fill out his form and jotted down his responses.  When the census was over, I got a letter and a bonus check in the mail for having the most forms completed in the final phase.  The letter concluded - your persistence and persuasiveness paid off, you made a difference in two communities.  Wow- that is NOT how they described me at the state hospital.

I was hospitalized several times after my job with the census, but the stays were shorter.  I needed to get out and find a job. Once again, work found me!  My first full-time job was offering peer support during the closing of the state hospital where I was committed for several years.  This life transforming experience remains life affirming.  Many people who transitioned back to the community through the closure are now certified peer specialists with jobs and making a difference.

Since becoming a certified peer specialist and WRAP® Trainer, I’ve been able to acquire what I call the “3 B’s”:

o   A place to BE

o   A place to BELONG

o   And a chance to BECOME

The practical advantages of securing a full-time job: I ended Social Security Disability benefits after 17 years, I have my own 3-bedroom home that isn’t connected with the mental health system (I hold the keys, I go in and out, other people must knock-very different from a state hospital) and since that full-time career job began in 2006, I haven’t been hospitalized once!

I didn’t get well and go to work; work created my pathway to wellness.

My Goals: Check When Completed

o  Home

o  Job

o  Date (And I married him!)

o  Transportation