I had never told an employer about my experience living with a psychiatric condition due to my fear of discrimination. However in 2016, I made the decision to disclose my lived experience. I had been working for Vinfen for five years and very few knew that I am a person with lived experience. I noticed on the posting for the Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) Supported Employment Director position, a line stating “People with lived experience encouraged to apply,” which started the internal dialogue about disclosing to Vinfen. When I disclosed that I have lived experience, I was greeted with empathy and appreciation for sharing my story.
I have been experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder since I was a teenager. The symptoms progressively got worse in my early twenties, as they do for many. From age sixteen to twenty-five, I was hospitalized four times. The struggle of figuring out the delicate balance of therapy, medications, sleep schedule, and exercise was a challenge for many years. Although I was feeling sick, I was able to complete three years of full-time college in Chicago, IL. Though I was managing to maintain a strong GPA, I struggled with my condition and with each passing day. When my life felt more unmanageable, I dropped out of college and moved home.
After returning to Boston, I restarted intensive therapy and found doctors that better understood my condition. In an attempt to regain a sense of normalcy in my life, I began working in human services and returned to college. Research has shown that employment promotes recovery and general well-being for people with lived experience (U.S. National Library of Medicine).
I was hired by Vinfen in 2011 as a Job Coach at the Employment Training Center. It meant the world to me to be making a difference in people’s lives again. I made new friends at work and gained a professional network. Since starting at Vinfen six years ago, I have moved forward in my recovery in a profound way.
My life would be significantly less fulfilling without being employed in a field that I feel connected to. I feel that I have made a difference by supporting others find employment that matters to them. Vinfen provides Individual Placement and Support (IPS) to any person who is interested in employment. IPS is an incredible service. It not only provides supported employment, it focuses on people’s genuine career goals and interests. Employment services provide people in recovery the opportunity to grow and move forward in their recovery. With support, so many people have succeeded in finding meaningful, competitive employment.
I can say with certainty that my recovery was due in large part to having meaningful employment. It is the one constant factor in my life for the past six years. It provided me with a sense of purpose, a social group to belong to, financial independence from my family, and a connection to my community. For me, being employed means feeling like I am doing “well” and succeeding. It gives me hope that regardless of my challenges, I will live a meaningful life.