Skip to main menu Skip to content
Take Your Own Advice: A MHFA National Trainer’s Lived Experience
Take Your Own Advice: A MHFA National Trainer’s Lived Experience

Isaac SandidgeI started my mental health journey when I was hired at a Centerstone of Illinois clinic as a residential support specialist in a group home setting. This felt like the perfect opportunity for me — I’d always been interested in helping people. Little did I know that years later I would be the one who would need that support and help.

 

A Bright Beginning

About a year after joining, the facility received a new grant and asked me to step into a leadership role to supervise a team of certified peer specialists. The opportunity to become more engaged in the field was exciting, especially because I’d already been involved with several community support groups and working as a case manager in my community.

The role opened my eyes! I was exposed to the concept of person-first language for the first time, and my team kindly offered alternative language when discussing mental health challenges and illnesses. I was offered a lot of guidance for which I was so thankful!

Working with certified peer specialists was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I witnessed connections people were making with others on a daily basis. These people actually understood their life experiences and challenges and were willing to talk about them. Even people who were reluctant to speak to our most-seasoned clinicians were opening up to one another. I regularly got to see connections, compassion and recovery in action.

Tough Times

Years later, I struggled with my own significant mental health challenges. I found myself in a really dark place. My family life was crumbling around me. I unsuccessfully tried to self-manage my issues. Stubbornly, I resisted the idea of seeking help to talk about the “monster” that followed me. I thought with all my training and knowledge, surely, I could manage this myself. I didn’t need help. I didn’t need to talk about it. I would figure it out.

I didn’t figure it out. It was getting worse. I was drowning.

My physical health was deteriorating as a result. I was losing sleep. I was drinking heavily and was in significant physical pain. Suicide was a regular thought. Although I never thought I would act on it, I found myself driving by places and thinking, “This would be a beautiful place to die.” I lived like this for a few years — until I ultimately lost my job.

Feeling at the lowest point of my life, I was scrolling through my social media one day and saw a close friend of mine had shared a personal story. That is what I needed. To this day, that person still doesn’t know how much of an impact their story made in my life, but I made a decision that day.

I called my primary care physician (PCP) and shared what I was going through. I started utilizing my support systems more effectively and sharing my feelings more often. I made myself vulnerable and confessed on social media that I wasn’t doing well.

Road to Recovery

What happened next surprised me. My social media was flooded with private messages of support, encouragement and shared experiences. People I hadn’t talked to in years were messaging me to give reassurance and tell me about their own challenges. They let me know I wasn’t alone. It touched me so deeply and reminded me of those interactions I used to see on a daily basis, but this time I was the one being supported.

Things are great now. I worked with my PCP and my therapist to battle that beast. I just celebrated six years of sobriety.

In 2016, I trained to be a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and I love everything about working with the program. I remember sitting in my first Instructor course thinking how I couldn’t wait to get out and start spreading this message of hope and recovery to others.

I now teach Adult, Youth and teen Mental Health First Aid on a regular basis. I know I carry a responsibility to help others learn how to save lives. Each year on my birthday, I make sure I have a course scheduled. I celebrate life by training others how to give the people in their lives more birthdays.

I still have dark days, and I still pass by some of those beautiful places. But now when I drive by, I think, “This is a beautiful place to live.”

Interested in starting or continuing your mental health journey? Get certified to become a First Aider and Instructor and #BeThe1in15 in your community.

Isaac Sandidge is a MHFA National Trainer and Instructor in Missouri. He is affiliated with the Missouri Institute of Mental Health at the University of Missouri.

Get the latest MHFA blogs, news and updates delivered directly to your inbox so you never miss a post.

Name(Required)