Recovery Stories -Alex Myhaver
Post Recovery Story
By Alex Myhaver
I started experiencing symptoms of mental illness in my late teens and early twenties. During this time I dedicated myself to five intense years of psychotherapy. With the help of my therapist I overcame my substance abuse addiction and I started going to college part-time. Despite my efforts my mental illness was persistent and it progressed. I continuously had intruding paranoid thoughts. These thoughts continuously interrupted my moments of peace and my ability to focus on responsibility. They took over my life! At age 22, during the fall of 1993 I had to withdraw from college and I entered Jackson Brooke Institute (JBI) and soon began taking anti-psychotic medication – it worked.
After two weeks in JBI I was released and feeling good. I was rescued from my inner madness. I recovered my life and resumed my dedication to college and part-time work. I enjoyed myself by working out, watching television; spending time with family, friends and the children I worked with at my job as a sports camp counselor. I became extremely self disciplined and as time progressed I started to believe that it was my hard work that caused my recovery and I felt that someday I would not need medication. I had pure ideals which I grew accustomed to living up to. During my junior and senior years of college I went to school full-time and received straight A’s. My college graduation was in May of 1999 and by that time I was completely off psychotropic medication. I had slowly tapered off medication with the support of my psychiatric team. I graduated summa cum laude with a psychology degree from the University of Southern Maine. Upon my graduation I received the Outstanding Senior Award from USM. I was on top of my world and I conquered all my demands - So I thought.
Did you ever have a day when your life just changed? For me it was Thursday July 1, 1999.
On Thursday July 1, 1999 I went to work at my job at a Sports Camp for kids. By midmorning I was irritated by all my coworkers. By lunchtime I was arguing with everyone in sight. I suddenly snapped. I left work early that day, however as you’ll come to understand it was a day of promotions. When I got home I tried to convince my mother that I worked for the FBI, CIA, and that I was a faith healer ready to save the world. By nighttime I was the Commander and Chief of the armed services, the National Guard and the New World Order. The defining moment of my illness came that night when I stood barefoot on Portland Maine’s Eastern Promenade, and I used my karate to defeat World War Three the Nuclear Holocaust. I was then joined by ally helicopters that included Colen Powell, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush Sr.
My new sense of authority scared people and raised concern. I would not return to taking medication. I believed that the real me had emerged. Over the next couple of weeks I managed to argue my way out of my job, my home, my safety, and some of my friendships. My new job was to rule the New World Order. Off to work I went.
In reality my paranoid schizophrenia ruled my life. I spent the next three years homeless, in and out of jail for criminal trespassing. I was also in denial about my mental illness and I isolated from those who really wanted to help me.
On Tuesday April 9, 2002 I was taken from the Cumberland County Jail to AMHI. When I arrived I felt like a prisoner of war. I hated it. I argued with AMHI for over a month and a half. I would not take medication, and I tried to convince staff I was a legitimate FBI employee. I thought that eventually Colin Powell would come to my rescue and confront the AMHI Authorities. (I am still waiting for him to do this.) Just kidding.
During the first month and a half at AMHI I was not given any level privileges and I despised my treatment team. They were part of the conspiracy. To me AMHI was much more of a jail than the Cumberland County Jail that transferred me there. Authorities would not let me practice my karate which was the one thing that I felt had been keeping me grounded. I protested by privately doing 1000 pushups a day on the AMHI floors in my room.
On Tuesday May 28th 2002, the day after Memorial Day, the court order came to force me on medications. When it happened I felt like I was losing a part of my soul; however within two months I realized that wasn’t possible. There are times when we do things or are even coerced into doing things that don’t seem to be of our will or choosing but prove to be necessary and helpful. Fortunately for me this was one of those circumstances. The medications were starting to save my life. Next, I realized the AMHI staff were not part of the conspiracy. They had the same view that everyone else had. I had been ill. I started to recognize that a lot of people were in my corner. I played horseshoes, went on nature walks, met friends, attended groups, talked to staff and took medication. I still appreciate the staff today. Especially Nurse Kay, Kay Grant, for always believing in me and encouraging me the whole time I was in AMHI. I also appreciate my psychiatrist, at that time, Dr. Cox, who stuck with me through the worst of my illness, and my social worker Tom Connors for helping me get connected to Shalom House and find housing.
I’ve been back taking medication for over four years now. I am well and I have since recovered the inspired promise that seemed to slip away from me as I stepped off the stage from my college graduation. Since my release from AMHI in the fall of 2002 I have embraced my recovery. In May of 2003 I was hired by Amistad, Inc. and Ingraham, Inc. to a temporary part-time position, to write a housing book for people with long-term illnesses who live in the Greater Portland Area. This project was a success and by March of 2004 we published 4000 copies of the Housing Source which was then distributed to social service agencies and citizens in Portland and within the vicinity of Portland. I still frequently receive request for copies of the book.
In January of 2004 I landed a more permanent part-time position at Amistad as a peer outreach worker. I began providing low barrier help to people who needed help with housing, peer counseling, and attaining personal care items. Initially, it was a struggle for me to adapt to being at a job that I wasn’t in control of every responsibility I had. I was used to being a task master. Providing direct care to people required me to be flexible and be able to “go with the flow.” With the help of job counseling and a major commitment on my part and the staff at Amistad I made the transition. My job expanded to include public speaking opportunities for me to tell my story and teach people about mental health recovery, and eventually for me to facilitate and coordinate a recovery program at Amistad.
The opportunity to public speak became a passionate and busy part of my job that lifted my own recovery. With regularity I began speaking to police officers in our state that are training to become CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) officers who respond directly to people with mental illness who are in crisis. I have told my story to support groups with the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill, to our local colleges and high schools, and at advocacy rallies for the homeless. I also have trained mental health professionals at AMHI, Spring Harbor Hospital, and McGeachy Hall, who want to gain insight into recovery work and further help getting patients to comply with taking medications without having to use restraints to get compliance. In sharing my story of mental illness and recovery I have offered hope to others. My story came full circle in the summer of 2005, when I delivered the consumer keynote address at the closing ceremony of the Augusta Mental Health Institute.
Through the work I do helping others, I have empowered my own life. In October of 2005 my job at Amistad became a full-time position with benefits. I was promoted to the position of Peer Outreach Coordinator and I received a significant pay raise. In November of 2005 I was awarded a national first place Reintegration Inspiration Award from the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company for my recovery from mental illness, moving my life forward and inspiring others. By February of 2006 I was officially removed from Social Security Disability and achieved self sufficiency.
Today I strive to live a balanced life. Over the past few years there have been some mainstays to my recovery. I take my medication at the same time everyday. I maintain my own apartment. I meditate and pray daily. I have a balanced physical fitness routine that I am passionate about. I practice smiling 20 minutes a day to boost my mood and I eat well. I also spend quality time with my good friends and stay close to my family which I am gratefully reconnected to. I go to church consistently and I balance my disciplined routine by spending time watching television for laughs and sports entertainment.
I want to thank my greatest support whom is my mother Beverly Myhaver, for always being in my corner even when I thought she was in the opposing corner. She is not only a great mother but the greatest role model I have ever known. I also want to thank Shalom House for helping me build a foundation in my life when I had just come out of AMHI. I thank Support and Recovery for the good case managers I had over the years and a special thanks to my psychiatric nurse Linda Jacobson and the recently retired Dr. Christie for fully supporting my recovery. Most of all I want to thank Amistad for truly practicing recovery, respecting people and offering hope. I still have many dreams and goals I work on daily and I will continue to go forward with my life. Recovery is possible and I have the reward of making a career by finding the light through recovery from a terrible, lonely and dark time of my life. With this I have been granted wisdom and peace.