My name is Michele, and I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder and Generalized Anxiety in 1998. However, looking back, I certainly struggled with it all my life.  I began my career in early childhood education and eventually became the Director of a preschool and after school program. I got involved in the community providing trainings and workshops for educators and became a state approved mentor for other early childhood programs. I later opened my own business providing social coaches for children with ADHD, autism, and other disorders, and individual training and support groups for parents. I was a bit of a workaholic which put stress on me and my marriage. I thought I had things under control, but a series of life-altering events led to a suicide attempt in January 2017. I should not have survived, but thanks to family, friends and amazing doctors, I did. A stay at a psychiatric hospital followed. While in the hospital, I agreed to apply for SPA housing. I went from the hospital directly into a homeless shelter. After a short period of time, I was granted housing through Options. Options provided me with a beautiful home, a room of my own, and a case manager that changed my life.

Stephanie met with me each week to discuss my present circumstances and future goals. She kept reminding me that recovery takes time. In 2019, I was still in Options housing but had been transitioned to a different housing case manager. I was referred to a new Options program called Home and Community Based Services, where I would be able to receive support to continue my education. As it would turn out, Stephanie would become my case manager once again. She helped me apply for training to become a peer specialist. A few weeks later she called to see if I was interested in applying for a peer specialist position at Options.

Being employed by Options was a game changer. It was the first time I didn’t have to hide my mental illness. My personal struggles were turned into lessons to encourage others. Being a peer allows clients to relate to me on a different level.  I may not have lived their experience, but I have lived AN experience. I try to help them understand that their diagnosis does not define them. When I was first diagnosed the most important lesson I learned was to not say I am bipolar, but rather that I have bipolar.  People with cancer do not say, “I am cancer.” It’s something they have. Just the same, bipolar is not who I am. It is something that I have. It’s a diagnosis, not a definition.

I now have my provisional certification as a peer specialist, and I’ve been working for 3 years. Options has played a pivotal role in both my personal and professional life. I continue to receive the support I need from Options staff and then in turn I can provide support and encouragement to others facing their own struggles. Back in 2017, I had no hope, no vision, no sense of self-worth. But with my family, my treatment team, and Options, I have been able to not only survive, but thrive.