My Recovery Story by Larry Scharnweber, Recovery Support Specialist at Stepping Stones
Over the years, people have unfailingly expressed disbelief when I share that I have a mental illness. People say things like, “but you have a job, a family!” At Stepping Stones, clients have said, “You couldn’t possibly have a mental illness because you’re staff!” Hearing these words remind me of how far I’ve come and inspires me to want to instill HOPE into everyone who has a mental illness.
In my case, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was nearly 40 years old. For most of the 20 years prior to my diagnosis, I moved around the country from job to job. I would take a position with a company do well in the beginning, but before long my paranoid ideas would start intruding. Once the obsessive, paranoid ideas started, I didn’t have the skills to challenge or stop them; instead, I would begin my search for a new job somewhere where they would truly appreciate me. This repeated itself over and over again. In my first 15 years of marriage my wife and I moved 16 times! Most of the moves were from one state to another: Ohio, Iowa, New York, back to Iowa, Texas, Illinois, Washington DC area…finally in 1989, I moved my family to Rockford (for the second time). My wife told me that she was “through with moving” and if I took another job out of state it would be by myself. She finally put a stop to the costly (financial and emotional) moves I had put my family through.
My new employer, here in Rockford, had been a friend for some time. One Saturday I came in to work and found a lot more to do than I had planned on (or felt like doing). I completely lost it and started screaming at other people in the office. I called my boss/friend and told him that I was quitting and shared some things I thought about him personally (that were very mean). I went home. By late afternoon I realized what I had done and tried to withdraw my resignation. My boss/friend told me that he would accept me back as an employee, but only if (and after) I had gotten ‘some help.’
Within a week I got an appointment with a Rockford psychiatrist and soon after got a diagnosis and medication. I was able to return to work and worked for the company for about another year. Despite getting help and medications I didn’t get much better. I still changed jobs (following my old pattern) every 20-24 months until in the late summer of 2000 I got a job as a Recovery Support Specialist at Stepping Stones. Once I started working here the same issues that I had faced elsewhere returned. I would work successfully for some time at a site and then feel like I was being taken advantaged of or that my work was underappreciated and then I would try to get transferred to another site. Finally, in 2006 my attitude and tone of voice got the attention of other staff and supervisors. I was given my last chance to correct some of the behaviors I had been exhibiting or I would have to resign (or be fired) from Stepping Stones.
The fear that I would lose this job made me take an inventory of my life and what I was responsible for. I made a commitment to myself to take my medications as prescribed, unlike in the past when I would frequently stop and restart taking my medication. Even more importantly, I took a long look at my behaviors and tried to identify the symptoms that might be triggering them. Over time I was able to manage doing a better job at controlling both my behaviors and my emotions.
One of the main reasons that I took my current position at Stepping Stones (Recovery Support Specialist) was so that I could openly share my story of recovery with others. I really enjoy the groups that I facilitate on Recovery and Wellness and find helping other people devise their personal Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAP) particularly beneficial. The area of which I am proudest is that I am in my 19th consecutive year at Stepping Stones, and no longer feel the need to move myself all over the country. Recovery made this all possible and it can for you too.