I love being a part of TMHA, I love the people who are a part of it, and I love the promise of hope. TMHA doesn’t just do miracles – TMHA specializes in them. —Robert, a potential tenant

Darryl: A Journey to Wellness

As a young teen, Darryl was in a horrific car accident that caused him to have a traumatic brain injury. As a result, he had difficulties with his memory and began to struggle in high school and ultimately dropped out. Despite these setbacks, Darryl began a successful career in retail management with Robinsons-May. During his 15-year career, he opened many stores throughout the West and achieved much success.

Later, in 1998 Darryl began experiencing a variety of symptoms that he didn’t know how to deal with. Before long they overwhelmed him and his world shattered as he lost everything he had worked so hard throughout his life to achieve – his job, his car, and his home. He looked to his family to help keep his head above water, but after just a short time, Darryl lost both of his parents as well. With no other options left for him, Darryl became homeless and began travelling throughout the country, never staying in a single place for very long, and continuing to struggle with the overwhelming symptoms.

Eventually Darryl found himself in San Luis Obispo and decided it was time to reach out for help. He realized that he couldn’t go on like this anymore. He began the long process of finding a correct diagnosis, which would be the first step in finding a treatment that would help him regain his life. Along the way, a lot of scary names were given to the list of symptoms he was experiencing, names like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. Working with his care team, he slowly started to learn ways to manage his illness.

In 2007, he learned about TMHA’s Transitional Housing for the Homeless (THH) program and enrolled immediately. Before he graduated from the program with a Section 8 voucher, Darryl decided to make everything out of this second chance and began looking for other ways to enhance his wellness. During his search, he learned about TMHA’s “Hope House” Wellness Center and started attending in 2008. “It was a terrific program to start with and a great way to get involved,” Darryl recalls. “I really enjoyed the interactive aspect. I made many wonderful friends.” He then signed up for a TMHA Peer- to-Peer class to further explore recovery. “The class was extremely helpful to me. It taught me about my diagnosis, treatment, mindfulness and exercises to help me stay well.”

In 2009, Darryl also learned about TMHA’s newly established Peer Advisory and Advocacy Team (PAAT), a group of people living with mental health concerns who wanted to provide a voice for peers in the mental health system in our community. Darryl started attending the PAAT meetings and after just a short time, he took on a leadership role within the group and was eventually hired by TMHA to serve as the PAAT Coordinator. “Being the PAAT Coordinator has been the most rewarding experience and a big part of my continued recovery,” he says. “This job is perfect for me because I am very analytical, have a lot of patience, and enjoy being a positive role model. The PAAT team is a fantastic group and I appreciate their hard work and effort in helping others and for educating and advocating to our community.” Under Darryl’s leadership, PAAT members have been involved with the Journey of Hope community forums, the SLO Hotline Bowl-A-Thon, and the Opening Minds art show, as well as regularly consulting with TMHA and SLO Behavioral Health about improving mental health services. “Our PAAT members volunteer or participate at events as active members of our community, and we want to serve as role models for others.”

When you meet Darryl today, you come face to face with someone who is truly living the life they were meant to live. The passion he has for giving back to the community that helped him regain his wellness is simply inspiring. Darryl has built a life around helping others. In addition to serving as the President of NAMI-San Luis Obispo County and sitting on the Board of Directors for TMHA, Darry has been involved in a variety of programs to help others in the community. Through TMHA’s Outreach and Education program, he became certified to teach NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Peer-to-Peer class through which he helps people living with mental health challenges learn about mental illness and how to live well with it. He also became a member of TMHA’s speakers’ bureau and regularly shared his personal story of recovery through the Stamp Out Stigma (SOS) and NAMI’s In Our Own Voice programs. “I love to share my story with others,” Darryl enthuses. “It is the only way to stop the stigma attached to people living with mental illness. There are a lot of people out there who have the misconception that those with mental illness are all dumb or stupid. Mental illness is a brain chemical imbalance.”

Phil: Success in Service

PhilPhil’s motto is “Success in Service.” It defines him. He’s found a niche at Growing Grounds Downtown, but it hasn’t been a direct path.

After graduating from Cal Poly, Phil earned a good job at Hewlett-Packard as an information designer. Over time, he noticed that he was having a lot of anxiety that caused him to feel the need to check things repeatedly. He sought help for these symptoms and was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder in which people have unwanted and repetitive thoughts, feelings, or sensations that lead them to perform ritualistic behaviors to alleviate the anxiety.

“The OCD caused me to check things over and over again – doors, faucets, things I had written at work. I didn’t trust myself or feel capable. My work suffered.” Phil became overwhelmed by the anxiety and stress, which led to him developing depression. His performance at work continued to suffer and after 10 years at his job, he was laid off and moved back to San Luis Obispo County. “I did not believe in myself at all. I had low self-esteem and no self-worth and an abundance of fear of failure.”

But Phil didn’t accept the idea that things would always be that way. He decided to get some help and began seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist who specialized in working with people with OCD. He also enrolled in Peer-to-Peer, a class developed by the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) and offered through TMHA. “This was such an empowering episode in my life. I didn’t know others could have empathy for me, or share my experi­ences and struggles.”

Phil reached out to the Department of Rehabilitation and together they created a plan to help him get back to work, which included getting connected with TMHA’s Supported Employment Program (SEP). Though he was nervous at first and was fearful of coming face to face with the stigma he had felt by his previous employers and of being ostracized by coworkers, he resolved to see it through. “I made a decision that, by working again, my quality of life would improve and would lead me to wellness. SEP works with consumers to find something that fits for them. They helped to completely remove the stigma that I had felt.”

Phil’s fears were resolved when SEP helped him find a position with the Growing Grounds Downtown store. “My job coaches helped me to grow in an unexplored environment and encour­aged me on a daily basis, making me feel like I was part of a team. They problem-solved with me and asked me how they could help me overcome barriers like locking the safe and front gate. I had a built-in support system in place at work.”

Today Phil is a fixture of the Growing Grounds Downtown store and was awarded the Judy Newman Achievement Award for his outstanding achievements and commitment to wellness and recovery as a peer working in the mental health field in San Luis Obispo County. He has even taken on the role of a TMHA job coach, guiding new employees in the SEP program and sees this as a way to give back, coming full circle in his own journey. “I feel like I have a partner for life in TMHA, as long as I am willing. Recovery is an ongoing process and their sup­port helps me to continue on my journey.”