It’s Mental Health Awareness Month — a time when we work to remove stigmas around discussing mental illness. Putting a face on mental health is part of helping to create acceptance. That’s why I want to share my story.
For years, I was chronically in and out of hospitals. It was a struggle to be on my own or stay in one place for long. I was also homeless for periods of time. When I was homeless, I had a heightened sense of panic and overwhelming fear especially because I could have been harmed. I had to worry about the weather, where I would bathe, what I would eat and where I would sleep. When you are on the streets, you feel like nobody cares about you — that you are a nobody.
That all changed 20 years ago when a woman told me about four housing programs, so I applied. Pathway Homes, a behavioral healthcare nonprofit, offered me housing. That’s when my life stabilized. Having a home is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. I wake up every day full of hope. I feel a sense of community and my neighbors are respectful of my privacy. I feel safe in my apartment as opposed to being out on the street.
Now that I have a home, I do not have that intense terror. Since I have my own home, I can shut the door and be safe in my surroundings. I can play music, read, watch TV, cook food and sleep in a comfortable bed. With the security of a home, I am able to create art, journal, write songs, read, and study my Bible. Having a home also enables me to concentrate on my mental health treatment. When I wake up in the morning, I am excited about my life and have a sense of optimism. Even though I have challenges with schizophrenia, I still feel hopeful and am not suicidal anymore.
Having a home makes me feel like somebody. I walk around with my head held high and my shoulders back. My confidence has led to incredible opportunities. Since I am an artist, I sent several pieces of art to President Obama. The White House sent me a commemorative picture of the White House dogs, Sunny and Bo, on the White House lawn balcony. Additionally, President Obama sent me a Humanitarian Award because I volunteered to many nonprofits. I also speak for several nonprofits that have helped me.
Pathway Homes has been a blessing, helping me heal. My desire is that everybody living with a mental illness have a home and feel like a somebody. After all, my name is Lorraine. I am a someone with mental health challenges, and I am a somebody. It started with having a home.