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Mental Health Recovery Stories

Andrea Hercha Schmook

In the winter of 1977 I  lost it completely, and ended up wandering through my daughter's school as the Virgin Mary wearing my husband's blue jeans, a long green polka-dot dress and a bird cage cover over my head as my veil.  I was warning everybody that Jimmy Carter was the Anti-Christ and telling them that there would be a miracle at lunch -- popcorn for the children, yes, the miracle of popcorn for children at lunch.  I was hauled off to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) by the State Troopers.  When I refused to take oral medication, they forcibly gave me an injection of Haldol.   I then had to deal with the mind numbing grogginess caused by the medication.  I was diagnosed at first as a  paranoid schizophrenic, then later as bi-polar.  Since I really didn't misbehave they let me out of API.  When I left, a nurse handed me a a bottle of Thorazine and told me that I would need it the rest of my life and that I would be back.  I was told I would never get better.

I didn't accept that and my sister and mother didn't know any better either -- They thought I could get well.  From 1977 to 1984 I suffered many relapses, but I was determined to get better.  My sister and mother would support me when this happened so that I didn't have to go back to API.   With each relapse I learned something.  Something about what caused me to relapse.  And I tried to think of ways to keep from letting it happen again.  My illness was my teacher.  In the beginning I needed my medication because I couldn't cope.  But I was single minded about getting better.  I learned from a naturapath that mind, body and spirit cannot be viewed as separate and that I had to eat good foods, get exercise and enough sleep.   I had to learn the warning signs.  I had to learn how what steps I had to take to keep from a relapse.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.  At first, I had to take medication.  But I finally learned that there were other things I could do.  Especially if I didn't let my symptoms get too far advanced.  Mental illness was the best thing that ever happened to me.  It taught me how to think.

In 1984, I dumped out the rest of my medication and declared myself well.  I haven't had any relapses since then.  Sometimes, especially at first, there were times that I got shaky, but I had learned the warning signs and what I need to do to keep from relapsing.

When I was a patient no one talked about recovery.  So I thought I could be a voice for consumers.  A voice for recovery.  In 1985, I was appointed to Alaska's Governor's Council for Mental Health.  In 1987, when the replacement Alaska Mental Health Board was created as a result of the Mental Health Trust Litigation, I was appointed to that.  In 1988, I co-founded Mental Health Consumers of Alaska with Jim Gottstein   and Barb Green.  In the first year of operations, we were rated 12th out of 46 Community Mental Health Centers in Alaska.  As Executive Director of  Mental Health Consumers of Alaska, one of our goals was to find others who have recovered in order to add to the pool of hope.  That is what these recovery story web pages are for too.

Since I  wasn't able to be the mother I wanted to be to my two children because of mental illness, I have since moved to Seattle and then Chicago so that I could be with them in their young adult years.  I have worked for GROW in Illinois and Delaware, developing 12-step groups, and at Elgin Mental Health Center I was the consumer advocate.  I am now the Chief of Consumer Affairs and Development for the Illinois Department of Mental Health.

I am very supportive of the Mental Health Recovery Stories website being established by the Alaska Mental Health Consumer Web and will contribute other articles.  I have done a lot of trainings around the country and even the world on recovery and my current employment allows me to do some out-of-state trainings in addition to the work I do in Illinois.

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You may contact  me at Ahschmook@aol.com

                 Copyright 1998 Andrea Hercha Schmook.  All rights reserved
last modified 7/10/98