Any suicidal thought is a risk. Help is always available. HealthWest's 24/7 crisis line is (231) 722-HELP. Anyone with a mental health concern can also walk into our offices at 376 E. Apple Ave., during business hours for an assessment. If there is an immediate fear of death or injury, please call 911.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
(800) 273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line:
Text Home to 741741

Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio
(888) 628-9454

LGBTQ Youth Hotline
(866) 488-7386

Suicide Hotline for Deaf & Hard of Hearing
(800) 799-4889


Our Stories:
Why I Chose a Career in Mental Health


HealthWest Peer Support Specialist


For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to serve my community.


First, I wanted to join the Army. Then, I wanted to be a police officer; after that, a social worker, now a motivational speaker and author.

I was introduced to human services early in life. When I was a child, the division of youth and family services removed my brother and me from my parents’ care and placed us in foster homes. That process happened a few times until I was eight years old when I was permanently placed in my aunt’s care. Both of my parents struggled with substance abuse and lived a life not suitable for anyone, really, let alone kids.


It was a hard road full of fear, suffering, and uncertainty.


My early years created a blueprint for living that was/is faulty at best; tragic might be a better word. It takes concentrated effort to rewrite that blueprint to reflect the woman I am meant to be and the life I created.

The backslide toward self-loathing always happens so easily, almost as easy as it is to breathe. The march forward, embracing self-love and acceptance, is never as easy. That march comes with tears and challenging limiting beliefs, growing past loved ones, and stepping off a ledge wondering if these wings will hold my weight. At times when my eyes fill with tears, I feel like it’s my spiritual-self telling my human form the words I use to describe myself are not true.  I am more than broken, more like sprouting, never a monster, and always enough.


My love affair with self-destruction became visible to others when I was 10 years old and had my first suicide attempt. My adolescence is full of self-harm, suicide attempts, and aggression toward others. At some point, I began to prefer hospitalization to being home. I was surrounded by kids who spoke my language. We laughed at who cut the deepest, shared stories that reflected our inability to survive our emotions, and shared secrets most people took to their grave. I am not sure how many times I have been admitted to an institution. I am going to guess more than 20 times. As I got older, it went from purely psychiatric wards to detoxes and rehabs as well.


I was seeking to end my life in one way or another with enthusiasm. From time to time, I would build a life, obtain employment, a car, a place to live, and then the floor would fall out. Maybe more like I would set it on fire.


My first career in human services was in group homes serving the developmental disability population, specifically autistic children and then adults. I enjoyed that work. It felt like I found my tribe among the population society would rather forget. That career ended for a while as I got into legal trouble outside of work. While that was clearing up, I worked in retail, lots and lots of retail. It felt like going to detention willingly to collect a paycheck. There was no purpose-driven energy, just feed my bills and hope for the best, wondering.


In 2003 I was connected with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey’s Consumer Connections, and I was invited to take the training to become a peer support. I honestly didn’t think it would lead to much. I mean, who hires someone who openly admits to having severe and persistent mental health issues? I enjoy learning, so I went and I loved it. Having been in and out of so many institutions, I had some knowledge I didn’t know I had.


Shortly after starting that training, I went to community college, majoring in human services. I struggled in math, language, and science, however, my human services classes came easily. It felt empowering to be leading such a life, but I wasn’t ready to give myself a shot and I set that existence on fire once more in the name of self-loathing and deep-rooted shame. I was able to graduate and complete the training, but not much came of either at that time.


In 2008 I obtained a career as a peer support for a mental health association. It was almost surreal, and by far, the best employment I had ever had at that point. I hit the ground running; shortly after I was hired, I was promoted to a case management position. I was enrolled in college at this time, pursuing my bachelor’s in social work, and my supervisor talked about another promotion to assistant coordinator once I graduated.


Again I was not ready.


I spoke the language but hardly walked the walk after a while. I didn’t allow myself to reach out for help when I was falling, so I hit the ground like a sack of flour from the top floor, a whole hot mess. It just so happened to come to a head during my last semester of my bachelor of social work, after being accepted to the accelerated program for the master’s program, and being at the top of my class.


From honors to rehab.


Another run.


Another fall to follow so many others.


In 2015, I entered my last detox and went to a halfway house that changed parts of me I thought would kill me. I did not successfully complete that program. I was kicked out for fraternizing; however, my pursuit of wellness became better defined. A few years after that stay, I started using the tools I learned in institutions in my life outside of those walls. I had worked with others on developing Wellness Recovery Action Plans but not internalizing it for my own wellness management.


Again in 2017, I was invited to take the peer support specialist training this time for credentials. It was an amazing opportunity, and it reminded me that my purpose was not to end my life but to empower myself and others to survive their emotions. I completed that training but moved out of state before I obtained my credentials. I would say from that point on, although I would struggle from time to time, I actively pursued wellness. Not other people’s idea of what wellness was, instead it was my own. I worked with and incorporated the WRAP’s core concepts into my life.


My life.


I had been looking for someone or thing to rescue me from my life, some pill, doctor, or treatment to help me move past myself. It turns out, it was my job the whole time. I received services after 2017 but on my own, neither through an involuntary commitment nor court order. In fact, I currently work on the team that supported me for a time — a fact that is beautifully empowering.


That being the long-winded answer to why I choose to do the work I do, the short answer is because I serve myself best when I serve others. I have seen, felt, and done things that cannot be taken back or fixed. My purpose in this existence is to heal and pass on that healing. I am not always great at wellness. However, I continue to pursue wellness on a daily basis. I am proud of the woman I am and eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve my community.