Dear Melinda,

 

I want to thank you for the opportunity you have provided for the students of the S.P.I.R.I.T. Training Program.  It is such and extreme honor to be one of the people selected to participate in this experience.  I hope that there will be an opportunity for others to follow in the footsteps we are making now.

 

If you had only met us prior to beginning the training, you would be able to see a visual difference in us, as well as, the differences in our speech and thought process.  I feel that I have truly been blessed by this chance at a new and improved life.

 

In some of the letters you are about to receive, you will read about hope and dreams and futures transformed.  I think it is important for you to have a snapshot of me before the class and now, at the halfway point in our training so that you can understand my personal transformation.

 

I have been in the mental health system for many years.  I have been fortunate enough to have a compassionate therapist who has been my coach, my encourager, my confidante, and someone who wasn't afraid to say the things I didn't want to hear.  I value this relationship greatly and am thankful that she is the only therapist I have had since coming to Clackamas County Mental Health.  She has helped me to determine the goals I wanted to make and tried to support me through my many failures.  She was there to give me the tough love I needed after yet another suicide attempt, and to watch me try to come back to life again.  It has taken me a long time to get to a place where I might be able to carry on a part time job again.

 

As a result of the demands on the system, I understand that we can only see each other once or twice each month and that the one hour each week in the DBT classes was an added luxury.  In the SPIRIT program, we are able to have a more intensive and intimate encounter with our peers for a longer period of time.  As you know, it is very therapeutic to realize that there are others who experience life like you do and understand you like no one else seems to.  To be in a classroom with 20 or less people and discuss some really harsh realities from your own past and know that you are still loved and valued as a person, is incredibly liberating.  Even during moments when we are speaking one-on-one with a peer, we realize that we have shared something very special and learned more about ourselves than we had any idea existed.

 

I was diagnosed with a bag full of disorders.  They scared me a lot.  Was I defective?  Was there any hope for me?  Would I ever experience happiness on a daily basis, like the people around me, who seemed to make it look so easy?  Borderline Personality Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Panic Attacks, Dissociative Disorder, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Pseudo-Seizures, Migraines, and then I got hit by a semi truck on the freeway.  My head was spinning from all of these strange and scary words.  My therapist scored me as a 50, at one point.

 

Did you know that emotions are choices?  I didn't.  I thought that our feelings could not be changed unless someone else hurt us.  I believed that we were not responsible for our emotions or for our reactions to those emotions.  Emotions just were.  Period.  When I attended the series of DBT classes at CCMH, I began to understand some of the concepts about feelings and expression of those feelings.  Then, I began attending the SPIRIT classes and an entirely new world opened up for me.  I am told again and again that I am a new person.

 

Growing up, I didn't understand why things always seemed to be a little different for me.  When someone would explain an issue, I always seemed to have a different point of view than the majority.  Most of the time, I was unable to relate to anyone my own age and I always enjoyed spending my time with someone elderly over going out to play.  Today, I see those things as assets rather than the curse they felt like in school when the other kids were picking on me.

 

Today, my mother-in-law said some interesting things to me.  She said that since I had begun this training she had started to hear an increased confidence in my voice.  She told me it seemed like I was finally in touch with reality, not just the reality I created for myself.  I was easier to talk to and much more enjoyable, I seemed calmer to her and these are only observations she has discovered over the phone.

 

I think she is right.  I do have a sense of calmness in the midst of chaos.  I still have bad days, many traumatic things are going on in my life right now but for once, I don't believe that the sky is falling.  I know that tomorrow is a chance to begin again.  I know that I cannot change the past, but I can grow from it.  I want to go into the community and make a change and to help others discover parts of themselves they didn't realize were still there.  I would like to change the way the world views us and the way that we view ourselves.

 

When I submitted my application for this program, I did so because I have always been a resource station for others.  I married right out of high school and at 18 was raising two babies, my newborn and a stepdaughter.  When my husband left, my daughter was four and we also had a two-year-old son.  I had no clue what to do, I was working full time and yet now I could no longer afford the child care, my car was being repossessed, everything seemed to fall apart and I didn't have the tools to handle the situations that were coming up.  I ended up having a family friend move into our apartment and for the next few years, I slept on my own couch because offering the bedroom to my friend was my way of providing compensation for the childcare and household assistance.

 

Even with the help of another person, there was still not enough to cover the costs of raising my little family.  My husband didn't provide any child support and rarely even saw them the first year or so.  I needed help and had no idea how to obtain it.  I began contacting agencies to determine what I could do to find boxes, clothing, diapers, etc. for the costs I was unable to cover with my small income.  I compiled all of the data I collected and became an advocate of my own type by making sure everyone I met was aware of the options available.  I was laid off from that position and had several other short-term jobs or worked several at one time to make ends meet.

 

Family members began to advise me of resources they discovered and I realized I had a passion for getting this information to others.  I wanted an occupation where I would be able to do this as employment but the job adds I saw always required more education than I had.  Friends and family would contact me from time to time with needs for specific issues and I would research as much as I could to provide some options for the individuals who needed it.

 

I went to college for small periods of time throughout the next ten years to obtain some accreditation.  My mental illness always seemed to get the better of me and I was often out of work.  At one point, we became homeless and were able to gain access to Annie Ross House.  The resources I discovered while I was there were amazing, after leaving the shelter I was able to work as a counselor for a short time.  They helped me access transitional housing and later public housing.  Along the way I continued to add to my collection of resources and obtained copies of information from others who had updates.  I have always felt especially rewarded by this activity.  It became a great motivator for me at times.

 

Through much of this time, I was in the depths of my depression and became suicidal several times.  The attempts on my life became very difficult to overcome but I am thankful for the resources I was able to obtain through those difficult times.  The resources I have been able to collect are still helping people today.

 

I didn't have a full view of the type of training I would receive, but I am so happy to have learned the things I have.  I have a desire to create change for anyone who has been affected by mental illness.  The training has created a fire or passion for life within me.  I want to do whatever I can to make the world a better place.  I have begun the process by helping those I have met within my circle of family and friends.  It is my heart's desire to continue this training and take my knowledge to other places, to expand further into the community and to someday accumulate some of the knowledge that Pat has gained through the years.  Maybe sometime in the future, I too, will be a consumer representative to Washington, D.C.

 

I would love to be able to say something very profound, but there are so many things I want to tell you that I am having a hard time finding the words right now.  I beg you to find the resources to continue programs like S.P.I.R.I.T. even if the students chose not to take the information into the community at large, they will become better people for having taken the class.  If each of us has the opportunity to offer assistance to change even one life, the class will have been an ultimate success.

 

I am amazed at the changes in treatment I have received as a result of my newfound confidence.  I feel at home in front of a group of people and the lack of self-esteem I once had has amazed and impressed my family and friends.  I was finally confident enough to calmly address my ex-husband, who I have feared for many years, to let him know my own needs and advise him of what I believed was necessary for our children's future.

 

I have never been able to do that without falling apart by the end of the conversation.  If this is only half way through the program, how empowered will I be, how empowered will all of us feel by the end of this adventure?

 

I look forward to seeing you at graduation and showing you the amazing work the program has done.

 

Thank you,

 

xxxxxxxxx

Student

S.P.I.R.I.T. CLASS OF 2005

w empowered will I be, how empowered will all of us feel by the end of this adventure?

 

I look forward to seeing you at graduation and showing you the amazing work the program has done.

 

Thank you,

 

Student 001

Student

S.P.I.R.I.T. CLASS OF 2005

ny years, to let him know my own needs and advise him of what I believed was necessary for our children's future.

 

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