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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Being a Peer Recovery Specialist: “I’ve Been In Your Shoes”

“What do you see in this picture?” the psychiatrist asks. He is holding a flash card with what appears to be splattered ink on it. This the famous ink blot test I’ve heard so much about in Pyschology class, and now it is being administered on me.

Maybe it is a butterfly, maybe it’s a human face. I don’t know. What does he want me to say? What can I say that will get me discharged from the psych ward? This guy has no clue, no fucking clue how small this test makes me feel judged, small, and less than. None of these people with doctor before their name understand what is like to be living with a mental illness. 

“I guess it looks like a butterfly,” I reply. He nods his head and says, “Hmm.”

This is one of dozens of interactions I’ve had with mental health officials who have starred at me, prodded me with questions, and diagnosed me since I was 16. Very few have every made me feel like they understood what it was like to really be in my shoes. The kind of empathy that bolsters your strengths not analyzing what is wrong or diagnosable with you. I longed for the kind of empathy that would comfort me when I didn’t think recovery was possible or that I was worth anything. The mental health system is just not built that way I am learning. For years it has been locking people away, drugging them up, and moving on to the next case. What I wanted was some kind of human connection to someone who felt my pain and saw enough in me to help me move past it.

Me and Director of Peer Services, Becky Sterling
It’s that feeling that lead me to become a Peer Recovery Specialist. By our very definition we are empathetic, compassion is in our job description. Peer Recovery Specialists or PRS for short are people with a lived experience of mental illness and or substance use disorder that uses their experience, strength, and hope to help people regain their lives. At the heart of what we do is sharing our recovery story to shows other that is possible. We can come to their level, meet them at whatever station in life they are in and help them reach their goals. We focus on what my PRS trainer Raymond Barnes says is “strong not wrong.”

The idea of peering has been around for years through organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous. But now it is becoming a recognizable profession across the country complete with certification, .registration through the counseling board, and validations through studies that show a sense of empathy is revoluntionizing mental health and addiction treatment.

My peer journey began before I was even offered a job. During my first psychiatry stay after group sessions all the patients would all sit and talk, help each plan what was next in life, and encourage one another. I didn’t know then that essentially we offering each other peer support. The advice of someone who had lived through my same pain helped me get back up. The experience changed me in so many ways.

For the past two years it has been my mission to share my story of surviving suicide, depression, homelessness, and anxiety. I’ve met with people in big groups, small groups, personal places, and public places. I’ve listened to their stories, and hopefully sparked a hope in them that their dreams are possible. I’ve made job referrals, connected people to resources. Well before I knew any of this was the basis of being a Peer Specialist. As I began looking for ways to volunteer and give back to people living with mental illness I kept stumbling across the description of Peer Recovery Specialists. It was everything I was already doing and everything I wanted to be doing more of. My opportunity would come after I gave a speech on surviving suicide in front of a room of mental health professionals in Portsmouth last year. A substance use administrator heard my story and said he would be calling me about a Peer Recovery Specialist job that not only would give me the opportunity to help others, but my training for certification would be paid for. That in a nutshell is how I started my journey in becoming a Peer Recovery Specialist. This month I will take my certification test, and August will make a year in this field.

The beauty of this job is as much as it is helping others it is doing amazing work in me. I am growing confidence in my abilities, learning about how to live with my mental illness, and changing the perception of mental illness.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

#VLOG: Life After Grace, The Journey Out of Homelessness

I want to thank each and everyone of you who sends comments, emails, and messages of support. It has been a very tough road back to stability. And, your support keeps me picks me up on the tough days and reminds me to keep fighting.

I haven’t done a VLOG on YOUTUBE in a while so click the video below to hear about my journey out of homelessness and what I am up to these days.

Love You, Love God More

Sunday, February 25, 2018

MakeupMonday: When A MUA Slays Your Face

My Mini MakeOver

 I am working on a new website for my speaking business, and I wanted new pictures for the site. I am OK doing my own makeup, but I wanted a professional to give me natural glow for my new head shots. I didn't have to look far. An old high school friend of mine is a self taught make-up artist who does amazing work. I have watched her YouTube Channel, and seen beautiful pictures of her work. She did an amazing job! Here are the before and after pictures. 
I felt like a star getting my makeup done. I can't tell you how many people stopped me that day to compliment me. The make up artist, Martinique and I have known each other since we were kids. As she skillfully worked on my face we talked about our childhoods, our dreams, and goals. It was such a great time of fellowship. I was so stoked about my look I found places to go to show off.


If you are in Hampton Roads and would like to experience a Martinique makeover email her at

 Also check out her YouTube page. 

 Stay tuned for my new speaking website :

Thursday, February 22, 2018

#MentalHealthMonday: The Power of Advocacy

My First Advocacy Efforts

I don’t think the average Joe realizes how accessible their local legislators actually are. I know I sure didn’t. When I was a television reporter I expected for local delegates and senators to make time for my interviews. But, did you know they are even more accountable to you, the voting public? This month I had two incredible opportunities to meet with local legislators to advocate for more mental health services in Virginia and I was in awe of how easy it was to connect with legislators.

My first opportunity came through the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI. NAMI is a one of the largest mental health non-profits in the country. One of their many duties is encouraging legislators to create better laws and services for people with mental illness. Me and about a dozen other NAMI members traveled to Richmond to meet with legislators on Mental Health Advocacy Day. In groups of 5 to 10 we met with legislators and discussed current bills NAMI is passionate about. Many NAMI members shared their personal stories about the need for more supportive housing, and Medicaid expansion. I never imagined advocating would make an impact, but every person we met with seemed genuinely interested in hearing about our stories and how current legislation would effect us. AND —>I was super fortunate to Richmond television station CSB 6 there to chronicle my journey. They profiled my journey for Depression Awareness Month last year. This follow up also shed a light on mental health advocacy which is a topic that doesn’t always get television coverage.

I also received a scholarship to attend an advocacy retreat with Mental Health America of Virginia this month. For two days, I learned effective ways to communicate with legislators and the power of advocacy. The retreat was located at a lovely former monastery in Richmond called the Roslyn Center. It is tucked away off Richmond Road in the West End. It was a nice, getaway from the hustle and bustle of life.
Picture of all the NAMI advocates at the Captiol

On the third day of the retreat, we traveled to the Capitol to meet with legislators. The highlight of my visit was meeting Senator Creigh Deeds. I have wanted to meet Creigh Deeds since I heard about his son’s tragic suicide years ago. Since then Senator Deeds has become a vocal, and passionate champion of mental health policy. I didn’t expect that I would get to meet Senator Deeds directly since the General Assembly is currently in session and legislators are busy. But, to my surprise Senator Deeds was in and gave me his undivided attention. I shared a bit of my story with him about surviving suicide, the lack of services when I was homeless, and how difficult life is with limited insurance. He listened, and offered me hope. Senator Deeds says he confident Medicaid expansion will happen soon and discussed the efforts many legislators are making to improve the quality of life for people with mental illness. I legitimately felt heard and understood. 
Senator Creigh Deed introducing NAMI
The experience was so rewarding I plan to participate in advocacy again next year. Maybe one day I’ll make my way to D.C. and speak to congress about the important of mental health services like a role model of mine Demi Lovato. Here’s hoping. 
Another cool thing I bumped into a famous actor. What is so funny is that I saw him sit down and I thought to myself, "That guy looks like a famous actor I've seen in movies." So I went over to him an said, "You must get this a lot but you look a lot like this famous actor." He replied, "Well I wouldn't say I'm that famous." Thanks for being ind Beau Bridges and letting me snap this photo.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Year of Rebuilding

I’ve been struggling with how to put into words how it feels to be rebuilt by God’s love and grace. Then it hit while I was sitting in at Richmond Starbucks this past week. For a moment I let myself exhale, and out of my lips came, “Thank you Father. Thank you.” 

My mind reflected to the brokenness I felt at this very same moment this time last year.

I recalled all the months with no place to stay, the weeks of feeling abandoned, the days and minutes of feeling I could never be made whole. Sitting there in that coffee shop with a place to return home to, a job I take pride in, and a hope for the future I never thought possible, the beauty of God’s grace washed over me. The feeling was so strong I broke down in tears just thanking God for His provision.

There were so many times I did not feel I deserved love from anyone. I felt because of my mistakes, missteps with love and sex, the shame I’ve brought my family, the dreams I let fall to waste side that I deserved my hard life.  Thankfully during the hardest moments of last year I’ve grew closer to my heaven Father by reading His word, and singing His praises. I feel transformed and rebuilt by His love. 

I am forever changed because of God’s love, and the sacrifice Jesus made that allows me to live a redeemed life.

It's like the scripture Jeremiah 31:4 that reads like this, “I will rebuild you, and you will dance again.” 

In the book of Jeremiah,God’s people have disobeyed Him. He voices his displeasure in the book, and lays out the punishment for their disobedience. But, Jeremiah 31:4 proves that no matter how far we stray from God’s obedience He gives us another chance to be rebuilt in His image and experience joy or dancing as it says in this scripture.

These past few months I can see how God has picked up the broken pieces of my life and rebuilt them into something new. He picked up the pieces of homelessness and turned into a new secure home of my own. He picked up the pieces of unemployment and
Me and one of my best friends Miss Sunshine
provided me with a job that allows me to help people. 
He picked up the pieces of my loneliness and blessed me with friends who have loved me in my valley. Now I am surrendering my shame, my guilt, and my own personal disappointment at the altar for Him to renew also. With every broken piece that God replaces in me I am being set free.What’s even more exciting is that I know this is only the beginning. I have not even began to dance as it says in the book of Jeremiah, and when I do it is going to glorify God is a major way.

Thank you Father for leaving the flock for this one sheep. Thank you for making me new.

February 18th I will be baptized again, a public display of an internal work in me. It is a re-dedication to you, a new beginning, a declaration of where my heart and soul stands. I am finally ready.