Recovery Speaks: Recovery is Possible

Samantha Higgins

On Wednesday March 23, the University of New Haven Psychology Club, W.R.I.T.E. Poetry Club, SMILE, UNH Step, Quidditch, BSU, and club baseball hosted “Recovery Speaks,” a presentation that was performed by people who have experiences with mental illness, incarceration, and addiction and now talk about their road to recovery to spread the message that “drug and mental illness is real, and recovery is possible.”

The presentation opened with Rosalyn Forant, who talked about her struggle with schizophrenia, but also asked the audience questions, such as how familiar they were with Robin Williams or Toni Harp and if they were aware of their disabilities. She addressed the psychology majors in the audience by stating “if you’re going to be a clinician or therapist you’ve got to know what you’re doing.” She went on to talk about medication and how so many have side effects, how people don’t talk about their struggle because of the stigma attached with being labeled as someone in recovery and that because of that stigma “some days I am ashamed to have a mental illness.” She shared that her journey has been tough, but she is doing better, after a struggle with side effects in addition to regular symptoms “Life is good. I’m not saying every day is good. But I take my medications and I’m not promised tomorrow,” Forant said. She then introduced Ira Sewell.

Sewell talked about his problem with alcohol in addition to being a paranoid schizophrenic. He described what it is like to hear voices and feel like there are people constantly talking at him and shared his story of recovery and his struggle that began at just 15 years old.

Yolanda Herring took the stage next and shared a poem to get her feelings across. She ended by saying “There were traumas in my life that made me sick, but I refuse to stay sick.” She went on to discuss in detail the traumas that filled her daily life growing up describing her life and traumas that led her to develop an addiction to crack cocaine as “When I tell you I lived in total darkness- it was complete darkness,” she was admitted to 25 mental hospitals, had been to jail, and inpatient facilities. She referred to herself before the traumas as “innocent me.”

In addition to talking about her experiences, Herring addressed the audience on how they can approach people with mental illness. On how to say things to get the information they need without offending a person. She said, for example not to ask a patient “What’s wrong” because, just like in her case, nothing was wrong, but something had happened, “Why make me feel like you’re accusing me instead of ‘what happened’ so I could tell you my story?” she said. She ended her part by saying “I am clean. I am everything everyone told me I’d never be. I am simply me.”

Al Gamble took the stage next and addressed the stigma that comes with admitting you have a psychological illness growing up, “you’re weak if you go to a psychiatrist,” he stated. Because of that stigma his life was increasingly difficult and he didn’t even know he had a mental illness until much later in his life.

Cynthia Parker spoke next, she described herself as a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend. She said, at 13, she began hearing voices and at 14, began using heroin. Heroin took over her life and became a driving force in it. She described the trauma of being on the front page of the New Haven Register after her 11- month-old drowned in the bathtub. She described her stages of grief and how she medicated herself, felt shameful, was in and out of jail. She also addressed the psychology majors in the audience by saying “if you’re going to be a therapist don’t judge a book by its cover unless you read some of the book.”
The event ended with questions asked by the audience and to the audience as well as a reminder to the audience that sometimes, even those in recovery “just need to vent.”
President of the Psychology Club, Jacklyn Jones felt that the event as a whole was important for campus because “it brought about the issues of mental illness and drug abuse and how it is possible to recover from those things.” Recovery Speaks was last on campus during the 2012-2013 academic year but they are looking to make it an annual event because of the importance of the topic. “I hope students get out of this an increased awareness on the issues of mental illness, drug abuse, and things related to that and realize it is not only stereotypical ‘crazy-looking’ people who suffer,” Jones said.

The presentation ended with the speakers asking random audience members the same question without asking for volunteers, if presented with someone with a mental illness, “How would you help?”