Too many times your mental health condition becomes a reality that’s impossible to escape. It’s easy to be on the other side of your mental illness and see the moments that changed you, but it’s a different feeling when you’re in the middle of it and suddenly it dawns on you: I need help.
When I was serving time in the justice system for a violent crime committed while I was in psychosis, I continued to battle my mental illness. I was in the middle of a really bad episode when the guy in the cell above called down to me, threatening my life. “When I’m done up here, I’m coming to get you,” he yelled. I was terrified. I clawed at the door, beat against it with my hands, screaming for the guards to let me out. I punched at the door until my hands were bloody and I passed out from exhaustion. During our free hour the next day, I scaled the steps up to the room above mine. I was going to confront the man threatening me, and I arrived at his door ready to face him. I stood in the doorway and looked around at the empty room — there was no sign of anyone ever being there.
That was the moment when everything started coming together. I connected the dots from all these past events and they all pointed me in the same direction: I needed help. The events of the night before were too real to me—I was so sure that someone had been up there, yelling threats at me through the walls. That’s when a correctional officer approached me and said, “There’s help for what you’re going through — there’s doctors, meds, support…. You don’t have to go through it yourself.”
Slowly and deliberately, I started making changes. I spent my free time reading and writing — writing stories, writing to my dad, reading poetry — and a lot of the other inmates would come to my room to see what I was working on. Someone would come in and say, “Let me hear some poetry” or “Let me hear that song you wrote.” They found motivation in me. I was doing all this work for my mental wellness, and the changes in who I was becoming encouraged the others around me. I was a peer counselor in jail before I was a certified peer counselor on the outside.
Today I work in engaging people in care and recovery. I also partner with South Carolina SHARE, where I share my recovery story. I travel across the state to put the word out about achieving recovery and using resources in the community. During my time in jail, I saw the impact that one person could have on the people around him, and I knew I had to continue that for the rest of my life.
Lloyd Hale works for the South Carolina Department of Mental Health as a certified peer support specialist and client affairs coordinator. He also partners with South Carolina SHARE where he shares his story of hope and recovery. He is married to a wonderful wife and is the proud father of three.