Starting in 1982, I had been in and out of hospitals. When I first was diagnosed with mental illness, I was a graduate student at the University of Kansas. During the first phase of my illness, I was teaching at KU and had won a Fulbright to go to Mexico to collect data for my degree. I had earned two master’s degrees and was working on my dissertation when my illness made it impossible for me to continue in the program. I was lost and went to private practitioners. My illness was overcoming me. I felt isolated.
At the time, the “medical” model was widely in use. What this means is that I was not part of my treatment plan. I took several medications, some to counteract the side effects of other medicines. I was a zombie. The doctors and nurses at the hospitals told me I would never live on my own. I would live in a nursing home or state institution. I was going down after having had a successful career.
With much reluctance and warnings from my outside practitioners, who claimed I would fall through the cracks, I entered the program at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. I continued to see a psychologist and psychiatrist in private practice, but I now had a case manager at Bert Nash. This was the turning point in my life.
My case manager talked to me for a few visits and then asked me to fill out a strengths assessment (which looks at your strengths rather than the deficits) with her. This was the first time anyone had asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was cautious and a bit bewildered because I thought the course of my life had already been determined. First, I said that I wanted to continue living on my own. She wrote that down. She then asked me what else I wanted to do, and I said I would like to do some kind of work. Again, she wrote that down. My case manager referred me to a job support specialist at Bert Nash.
Soon my case manager also became my therapist. I began to receive all my services at Bert Nash. The community support services gave me an outlet to socialize and I made friends. My new psychiatrist at Bert Nash took me off the many medications I had been taking for years. I began to feel alive again. I became a part of my treatment plan. I was told of possible side effects before I decided to take a medication or not. What was important was that the doctor at Bert Nash listened to me, and helped me feel better.
My case manager/therapist became a team leader. I like the team approach at Bert Nash because other therapists and case managers offer suggestions for my recovery.
At Bert Nash, all bases are covered. I have a therapist, case manager and job specialist and attend weekly groups. Now it is up to me to make a go of this. I worked for the School of Social Welfare at KU as an independent contractor, which meant I was a co-trainer for evidence-based practices, such as supported employment specialist and case management training. Currently, I am self-employed as a consultant/speaker/advocate. I am also on the Governing Board of Directors at Bert Nash.
I am enjoying my jobs. I feel much better about myself and my involvement in the community. And thanks to Bert Nash, I now have a better quality of life.
— Elizabeth Sheils