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  • Oct 03, 2023

Valeria Chambers Recovery Story

CHA Recovery Coach, Valeria Chambers, reflects on her recovery journey and the reasons why she credits peer support for her success.

My long dance with a mental health condition began after a series of very unfortunate events. I was walking around minding my own business when suddenly it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me and try as I might, I couldn’t find my bearings.  Life felt unreal somehow, but I kept going through the motions. My lifelong motto had always been- if at 1st you don't succeed, try, try again.  So I was very good at going through the motions.  In fact my family and friends noticed nothing different about me as I floundered deeper & deeper into a numbing abyss.  I wasn’t sad or weepy or anxious or afraid.  Just a feeling of being completely numb.  I felt like I was going through life in slow motion, like I was living 500 leagues under the sea in a lead snorkeling suit & boots.  Even simply reacting for a glass of water felt like a huge effort.

On the outside I seemed to be functioning more than fine.  I had 1 Ft job and a Pt job that paid for my room and board.  I knew what was expected of me and I acted accordingly.  Then, one day I got a new therapist.  We worked together for a year, after which she gave me her thoughts and  diagnosis- she felt I was extremely clinically depressed, and wanted me to go inpatient for a full evaluation.  I thought surely she must be talking about some other person she was mixing me up with.  It couldn’t possibly be me!  I was shocked when she told me that she saw me making huge efforts, carrying around such a huge burden   So, so, sooo huge, day after day, week after week… but she said life shouldn't have to be so hard as it was for me just to get through. 

At first, I just couldn’t even consider it.  I had a visceral reaction every time she brought it up & that eventually made me curious as to why I had such a strong reaction to the topic.  I began to notice myself watching it, watching myself moving through my life, carrying a 1000 pound monkey on my back… 

It took us 5 years of talking about my considering a hospital admission- coming back to the subject, here and there, amongst all the other “stuff” slogging around in my life, 5 years til I finally seriously considered it.  I was amazed that she was sticking to her story.  I thought highly of her and I trusted her.  This made me even more curious about my own stubborn position.  I thought about it and thought about it, trying to discover my true feelings about the situation.  Feelings were so hard for me; I had to use icepicks to chip away at that iceberg, lol.  But one day I finally had a realization (and I was so proud of this, my hard earned revelation!)  I realized that what was bothering me wasn't  the thought of a full evaluation on top of the medication I was already taking.  What was truly freaking me out was the thought of sleeping in a strange bed in a strange place, surrounded by people I didn’t know.  The thought absolutely terrified me.  I truly felt like I would die of anxiety just thinking about it. So now I had something else to talk about in therapy.  We began chipping away at a new iceberg…

Something else started to happen too.  I began to really feel how deeply exhausted and slowed down I felt.  I could hear the slowness of my speech.  I noticed how I could quite easily sit in the same chair, in the same room, day after day, doing nothing at all, ignoring the phone and passing up invitations.  Finally, when I could feel myself slowing almost to a stop, feeling weary enough to simply end, I checked myself into a hospital.

I had begun the path to wellness, but I had a long way to go.  Changes in medications did nothing.  I tried every type all the way up to the highest dosages, but it was like drinking water.  No effect, no side effects. Nothing to even show the medication was in my system.  Every now and then, we’d find something that would begin to work but after a few months- nothing.  After 5 morey years of more medication trials & hospitalizations, when nothing else was even close to working, ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) was suggested, and I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired, I decided to try it.  7 hospitalizations, 3 series of ECT, and 10 years later I finally found some relief from what they called treatment resistant depression.

During my last hospitalization I was very fortunate.  After that final series of ECT, I went into a residential program where we ate, drank and slept, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) on a daily classroom basis.  Over 6 months, in small classes with my peers, I learned exactly how depression affected me as well as the tools to address each symptom or problem area.  I learned my warning signs, my pre-warning signs, and when I needed to pick up the phone ASAP.  After that, I spent 4 months in a women’s program where we had intensive psychotherapy, individually and in groups, 6 days a week. 

I hear that now, much of what I described for treatment is done on an outpatient, not inpatient basis.  But I think what helped so much was that for an entire year I was with a group of my peers and we were all working together on ourselves, planting seeds for our lives, and supporting each other along the way.

I was fortunate because after studying & working in the field for many years, I was ok about being in mental health treatment environments.  I understood the language, the practices, the roles and many of the procedures.  In other words, I felt at ease (after I got over the whole sleeping in a strange inpatient bed thing), and I was glad to have made a good connection with a therapist who was able to meet me where I was.  These things made it much easier & less scary for me to enter the world of mental health treatment which included daily groups with people also working on their recovery.  One of the reasons why I love peer support is because peer support specialists are able to help people land a little more softly into the recovery process, whatever that looks like for them.

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