Saturday, December 10, 2016

Determined to Help Others Along the Path Through Life

Determined to Help Others Along the Path Through Life
By Steven Alvarez, Intern, Urban Justice Center's Mental Health Project

Finding Purpose During the Good and the Bad Times

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. If it weren’t for my own struggles, and meeting many peers with the same issues, I would never have gotten into this work. One friend that I met, Faigy Mayer, would ultimately set me forth on a new path in life, to work in mental health. I met Faigy during this transitional phase of my life. When she died, it only fueled me deeper along my path.

Growing up, I remember being terribly shy and not having many friends. I grew up in a hostile environment in which my dad (although I love him to this day) was physically and verbally abusive to my mother. I ended up inheriting his anger.

One day I stopped doing my homework. I couldn’t find the motivation, and worried that the kids at school would make fun of me. So rather than face the embarrassment I stayed at home. Eventually my mother took me to see the guidance counselor at school. The guidance counselor asked me if I wanted to go to class. Since I feared my classmates, I got angry and knocked everything off of her desk. She called the police, and when they came, I wouldn’t talk to them. They took me to a hospital, in which I was later admitted. I would live with the label of “crazy” from that point forward. I was only ten years old.

I began to act out and live by my own rules. I wasn’t the class clown; I was the class terror. Cursing out the professors, getting into fights, cutting class, smoking weed, and the like. I even remember getting picked on by the special-ed students and fighting back in the craziest ways possible to make them leave me alone. I was getting bullied, and unfortunately, to fit in, I was also a bully.

During this point, I was put on one of the most powerful drugs on the market called Clozaril, an atypical antipsychotic, usually used as a last ditch effort to treat the most severe cases of psychosis. Its list of side-effects are horrendous, but the worst required me to take a blood test to check my white blood cell count. Besides killing off my white blood cells, my weight ballooned to 300 pounds.

When I was taken off Clozaril my life changed. I suddenly became a new person, mentally and physically. My therapist describes me as waking up, as if a whole new person arrived, as if I had been living in a bubble all these years. My life started to transform. I became more socially active, lost 100 pounds, gained friends, and a girlfriend. Amazing things started to happen.

I relapsed in 2011 and was hospitalized three times that year. I emerged with a new vision, but unfortunately I was heavily medicated, and regained all of the weight I had lost. Still set on my mission, I eventually got off of another antipsychotic, Zyprexa, and lost the hundred pounds once again.

During this time, I ran support groups, threw the craziest parties, hiked, bowled, played pool, anything and everything, with a group of friends I will love for life. I credit two “Meetup” groups for my recovery: NYCDSG (New York City Depression Support Group) and, first and foremost, the New York Shyness and Social Anxiety Meetup Group. Through these social interactions I have lived several lifetimes in a matter of years. 

In January of 2016, I enrolled in the Howie the Harp Peer Advocacy Program. The training was like no other. Every day was a struggle, but also a gift. I began to realize that all of the things I went through had a meaning and purpose. I needed to suffer so that I could help decrease the suffering of others. The training was awesome and the people I met even more so. 

One day a friend messaged me about an Open Mic Night hosted by the Urban Justice Center, the law office I’m currently writing from. If I learned anything, it is that experiences, both good and bad, will prepare you for the future. Sometimes in life, our future works out based upon our plans and sometimes it doesn't. I often reminisce about my friend Faigy, and the times I went to visit her in the hospital. I know she would want me to continue to help others as I helped her and to never let go.

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