The road to recovery and reclaiming one's life from mental and substance-use disorders is not easy, but it is possible.
Keris Jan Myrick embodies that message - one especially important in September, National Recovery Month. She visited Buffalo Psychiatric Center on Monday to share her personal story of recovery from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness she was diagnosed with as an adult.
A resident of Pasadena, Calif., Myrick said she first noticed that something was not right when one day she was trying to perform the simple task of purchasing a box of her favorite cereal from the grocery store. As she reached for the first box to take it off the shelf, she heard a voice tell her the Cheerios were poison and she shouldn't eat them because they would kill her.
"So then I went to Kix, my second favorite, then corn flakes, then Count Chocula, and it was the same thing each time - 'It's poison. It's going to kill me,'?" Myrick said. "I was all over this aisle, and then I had a realization something was not right."
The next voice she heard said, "Cleanup on Aisle 7," and that's when she realized "I had decimated the entire aisle and wasn't aware of it. I was so horrified and so sad I wrecked the store and that I couldn't do what other people do, and that's buying a box of cereal," she said.
Her road to a better life was a bumpy one, but one worthy of the effort, she told an audience of about 200 in the Gertrude Butler Rehabilitation Center Auditorium on the main campus of the Psychiatric Center on Forest Avenue.
In July, Myrick was elected president of the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, the nation's largest mental health advocacy organization. She is also CEO of Project Return Peer Support Network, a nonprofit organization that provides peer support to thousands with mental illness in Los Angeles County.
Along her personal journey, she made suicide attempts and was misdiagnosed with an eating disorder. And she went through a couple of uncomfortable hospital visits.
In the first incident, a physician deemed her "gravely disabled and unable to take care of herself," Myrick said. She was transported to the hospital in a police car, but not before officers handcuffed her in front of her neighbors who didn't know she was ill. They thought she had done something wrong.
The second time, she had a car accident and hit her head on the windshield. Officers saw she had a previous history of suicide attempts and determined that it was possible the crash had something to do with another attempt. Officers told her she had to go to the hospital to be evaluated.
"They told me I could go in a gurney in the ambulance or in the police car," she said.
Eventually, Myrick was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.
These days, she is well on the road to recovery and is reclaiming her life. Her mental health treatment includes medication and the support of friends and family, especially her father and her dog. She also uses self-care techniques and maintains a strong relationship with her psychiatrist.
"I still see a psychiatrist. I still have mental illness diagnosis, but I have not been in the hospital for five years. I went back to school for a master's degree and to complete my Ph.D, and I went back to work," she said.
In its 23rd year, National Recovery Month promotes the societal benefits of prevention, treatment and recovery for mental and substance-use disorders. It celebrates people in recovery, lauds the contributions of treatment and service providers, and promotes the message that recovery in all its forms is possible. It also spreads the message that behavioral health is essential to overall health and that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.
"It's a month about education and encouragement for patients," said Renata Moore, who takes classes at the center.
The center serves Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties. It provides inpatient, outpatient, residential, vocational, and wellness services to those 18 and older with serious mental illnesses. Services include treatment, rehabilitation, support, crisis, self-help and empowerment services designed to help recipients recover and resume their lives in community settings. Multiple sites throughout the four-county area provide highly accessible services.