Bill Schneider's Story
I grew up in a normal family, and I was a bright kid—I.Q. of 140, a straight
"A" student. But while I was in college, my concentration began to disappear.
I began to hear voices telling me that I was nobody, that I was never going
to make it in life. My grades dropped from A's to C's. In 1977, I was hospitalized
for schizophrenia. I was given electroconvulsive therapy, huge amounts
of medication—the whole nine yards. The voices stopped temporarily then,
but they weren't gone for good. After my hospitalization, I tried to find
a job and make it on my own. But I couldn't take it. The voices would be
just terrifying. Eventually I moved back in with my mother, and soon after,
was sent to another hospital in Jacksonville, Fl.
I was in and out of the hospital and day treatment for a while, as the
voices came and went. Sometimes I felt so good that I was in denial about
my illness... until symptoms returned. I was so tired of treatment at that
point, tired of the stigma I felt from my own mother and even my psychiatrist.
He'd told her I'd be disabled for the rest of my life, and she believed
it—neither of them thought that a person with a mental illness like schizophrenia
I couldn't stand the stigma, so I moved out. My plan was to find a job,
but I ended up homeless on the streets in Florida. I had no food, no medicine,
and a job working a concession stand. For a while, I was living in someone's
garage, and in exchange for the living space, I had to do all kinds of
work. When my symptoms became more severe, I was taken to a crisis unit.
This is where my story turns around. For the first time in my life, I
was connected with a social worker who helped me get case management, Social
Security, clothes, food, and shelter in an assisted living facility. My
insecurities about living alone started to go away, and I felt motivated.
This was the beginning of my recovery.
I was prescribed newer, more effective medicines, and a drug called Respidol
finally made the voices disappear for good. I was able to live on my own
in a regular apartment for the first time. I learned basic coping skills
from my case managers and friends, as well as from consumer advocates who
had experience in the mental health system. They taught me how to advocate
for myself. Their help was so important in my recovery process, it made
me want to give something back. I started telling my own story to consumers.
Amazingly, I found that doing this not only inspired others, but helped
my own recovery. The momentum kept building, like an upward spiral.
After 20 years, I finally went back to college. There were case managers
who doubted me, who said I shouldn't apply for student loans because I
might not be able to get the necessary grades. But in the 1990s, I got
my bachelor's and subsequent master's degree in social work and consistently
achieved straight A's. At this point I was completely independent. I was
off Social Security, off Medicare and Medicaid, off subsidized housing.
I now own a condo through a rent-to-own program I created, and that's where
I live... with my wife. Did I forget to mention I got married?
Now, I'm the coordinator for the Office of Consumer Affairs in Florida,
an office funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families. I
supervise peer specialists who are sharing their stories the way I shared
mine. When my organization conducts focus groups with consumers, they usually
say that it's a little bit of everything that helped them the most. Not
just medicine, not just therapy, not just financial stability, etc. It's
all important to work on, and it's different for every consumer. Recovery
is an individual thing. No one can tell you how to do it—the important
thing is to know you can. You have the power and ability to make recovery