I was homeless and living in the forest in a primitive camp dealing with a misdiagnosis and the wrong psychiatric medications when I was referred to Pathways. Pathways found me housing, paid my deposit, and provided me with a private psychiatrist who correctly diagnosed my condition for the first time in my life. Since then, I have finished college with honors, fixed my credit, and started getting my life on track for the first time in my 40's. I wish I'd had them 20 years earlier, it would have saved me from so much trauma and suffering! Pathways provided the support and services that allowed me to thrive in an area where there were no others. They do essential work in Vermont that no other organizations offer.
I have a long history of mental illness, much of it not acknowledged at the time. I was 14 the first time I saw a psychiatrist. Against their advice, my parents took me home without treatment. My mental illness remained untreated throughout my teens and 20's, resulting in poor decision-making and choices. By the time I moved to Vermont in 2003, I had never successfully lived on my own - and I had been homeless twice already. I was living in denial of my mental illness. When I first arrived here, some nice people were charitable towards me and let me stay in a camper on their property until I found my first job in Vermont. From there I moved to a tent in another nice Vermonter’s back yard within walking distance of work, until I saved enough money to rent my first residence in the state. During that time, concerned friends urged me, and I became aware through social services that I was in an abusive relationship. Using the skills and strength given to me by this social service organization, I was able to find the strength to go to court and get a restraining order, and escape the relationship, which had been both psychologically and physically abusive. Unfortunately, because of the stress, and my undiagnosed mental illness, I was unable to perform my duties, and I lost my job. Not long after, I could no longer pay my rent, and ended up homeless - again. It had all fallen apart. For the first time in my life, I was ON MY OWN, and failing miserably at it.
For several years, I was caught in the struggle to obtain psychiatric care and proper medications, in and out of temporary housing, finding and losing part-time jobs, in inpatient psychiatric hospitals, and even sleeping in a car in a park. When I relocated to Southern Vermont, I didn’t realize there weren’t any jobs or psychiatrists accepting patients in the area. At the time, I was on sedatives for my mental illness, which I required to be in any way functional. My new primary care doctor outright refused to prescribe them, and when I tried to look for other doctors who possibly would, I was labeled "a doctor shopper" - a term I'd never heard of before. From that point forward, my needs were dismissed at every doctor's office I went to, no one would help me, and I was without the medications I needed to function and remain sane. I was repeatedly turned away from the Emergency Room, who refused to admit me, or even after I was referred there by my primary care doctor himself, via ambulance. "Go home", they’d say, "We can't do anything for you".
I eventually found myself camping in the forest outside of Bellows Falls. During that time, I experienced a volatile combination of disabling psychiatric medications, endless auditory hallucinations and paranoia caused by them, and the struggle of living isolated in the forest.
It's hard for me to talk about that time. I've lived through tornadoes that took down half my neighborhood, I've lived through domestic abuse. There have been a lot of traumatic events throughout my life that have shaped me, changed me, and hurt me - but nothing really compares to those dark years in the forest. Living in the forest with no resources is pretty hard. You learn a lot about survival. You learn how to acquire soap from public restrooms, how to find junk fabric at the recycle center to use as toilet paper, how to wash laundry in a pail using creek water, how to build effective shelters - you learn how to source the things that most people take for granted. You become stronger, more capable, and more resourceful. I could tell you all the ways in which being homeless in the forest is hard - but I'd rather tell you about how being a survivor makes you strong.
During my period of homelessness in Bellows Falls, I had come to know a great community drop-in center and food shelf, and they referred me to a brand new program helping people with a history of homelessness and mental illness get into permanent supportive housing, called Pathways Vermont. Pathways Vermont accepted me as one of their first clients. They provided me with access to their private psychiatrist, who FINALLY diagnosed me correctly as having Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety. I was put on THE RIGHT MEDICATIONS, slowly weaned at my own pace off the heavy sedatives I'd previously required to sleep, and for the first time in my life MY HEAD CLEARED. Pathways enabled me to get out of the forest. Pathways facilitated my application and approval for a housing voucher from the Department of Mental Health, and Pathways helped me find a clean, safe, and comfortable apartment in Bellows Falls right next to the bus line and within walking distance of the grocery store. Because I'd lost most of my possessions, Pathways' staff set me up with essentials like kitchenware, a microwave, a bed, and other household items that would have been difficult to impossible to acquire on my own. Pathways provided me with a caseworker who came to me, offering me all the additional support I needed to succeed on my own, without the stress of having to schedule appointments and ride the bus to the city. To this day I meet with my Pathways' psychiatrist online in videochat, and my caseworker comes to visit me at my home, a very helpful process, since I do not have to worry about the bus schedules or missing a bus - this is a huge help for me because riding the bus is a very stressful and anxiety-inducing experience.
With Pathway's help, my life is looking up. It took me five years under Pathway's care to heal from decades of trauma, but today I am enrolled in college, pursuing a degree in STEM Studies and Computer Systems Management at the local Community College, with plans to eventually transfer to a 4 year college to complete an engineering degree. I am focused, determined, and absolutely dedicated to IMPROVE MYSELF to GIVE BACK TO MY COMMUNITY and all the Vermonters who have helped me when I had nothing at all. I wouldn't have gotten there without Pathways. Pathways is absolutely the most essential element in my life. My mental illness isn't cured, this isn't a story about a miraculous recovery, it's an ongoing process that will continue for the rest of my life. It's a process that requires a good support system, a solid base to stand on, and strength and determination. It's not easy, and I struggle at times, but Pathways is always there for me when I need a little extra support, and with that support, I can accomplish great things. Five years ago I was in a tent, stuck, and powerless. Today I'm standing here talking to you about my future. Pathways was the catalyst that transformed my life. I'm proud to be a client of Pathways' programs, and I'm not afraid to tell my story so that others can have access to the same resources that helped me get where I am today. Supportive housing does change lives - Pathways Vermont changed mine.