It was my fifth hospitalization that changed the way I viewed the world. The four previous hospitalizations had occurred because friends or family took me to the hospital, or because of criminal justice involvement. I had been arrested three times, for things like breaking and entering and destruction of property, and each time I was sent to the hospital. But being arrested is no way to get to the hospital. I had horrible experiences when I was arrested—once I was attacked by police dogs and put in restraints and once I was tasered.
The fifth time I went to the hospital, it was on my own accord. I was done. I wasn’t happy with the direction my life was headed. I knew that I either had a mental illness or there was a vast conspiracy against me. But there was no conspiracy — I was sick. It took me hitting rock bottom to realize that I had to take responsibility for my actions. I decided to become an active part of my treatment, taking my medication, and working toward recovery.
After my most recent arrest, I was placed into a jail diversion program for people with mental illnesses. After I had been back on my meds for about a year or two, the Fairfax County Community Services Board asked me to come and work for them. I’ve been working here six years. I work with people with mental illness and support them while they get back on their feet. Many people are homeless or off their meds. I’m somebody who can bridge the gap between the individual and the treatment team because I’ve been there. I take them on outings to help them get acclimated to society and help them remember to take their medication.
It’s really satisfying to see the before and after: where someone is at when they enter the program versus a year or so later. They make great strides when they have a handle on their illness. I’m happy to know that my recovery can help others.
I also give speeches to crisis intervention team (CIT) officers and tell them my story. I work with them on safer and better ways to interact with people with mental illnesses. I’ve made really great friends with police officers by giving these presentations.
Kevin Earley attended art school in Brooklyn, NY. He currently lives in Virginia and works as a peer support recovery specialist in Fairfax County Community Services Board.