Joanna Fanuko

@joannafanuko | contributor
I advocate for mental health and wellness through my writing. I have a B.S. in Business Administration and Marketing from Carnegie Mellon University. I practice yoga and I’m a certified RYT-200 hour instructor. I am currently pursuing my MSW.
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Schizoaffective Disorder Stole My 20s -- Here's How I Feel Now

It has been about a little over a year since I was officially diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder , which is a combination of schizophrenia and either bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder ( major depressive disorder in my case). Even though it has only been a year or so since I have been diagnosed, this illness has taken up a substantial portion of my life. While my symptoms started when I was very young, they escalated during my college years and into the majority of my 20s. For the past decade or so, I have been struggling with my mental health , and it has affected so much of my adult life. I went to college for social work and was able to immediately get my master’s degree in social work following my bachelor’s degree, but during these years I struggled heavily with hallucinations, self-harm, and suicidal ideation, and I became very isolated. For some of these years my grades suffered, and I had to retake certain classes because I would not show up for class and failed the course because of my absences. I was also in a long-term relationship throughout my college years that became very strained. I was unable to be fully present for my relationship and the relationship ended shortly after I graduated with my master’s. Not long after this, I had a mental breakdown and had to be hospitalized. Since then, I have been in and out of treatment facilities and have been diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses — generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder (BPD) , and atypical anorexia — on top of a diagnosis of fibromyalgia . My daily life has suffered as I struggle greatly with hallucinations, severe depression , and a lack of motivation. I have been going to therapy three times a week and seeing a psychiatrist every two weeks for the past couple of years, which has made it impossible for me to work a traditional job. My job has been managing my symptoms 24/7. Schizoaffective disorder has stolen a sizable portion of my life and has affected me negatively throughout my 20s, but now, it is allowing to share my story with others. Throughout everything I have been through, all I have ever wanted was to help others who are going through similar things. While I mourn the time I have lost because of my illness, I personally feel that I have been given my challenges to be able to help others. With that being said, each day is still a battle for me. I have to deal with hallucinations that make it incredibly hard to function, on top of my severe depression that brings its own set of special challenges. Having schizoaffective disorder is like battling two separate, severe illnesses all at the same time. The only difference now from when my symptoms really started to become severe in my early 20s is that I have learned more coping skills to be able to function in a way that is unique to my own life. Mental illness is a big part of my life; it has dictated the course of my life to a great extent, but it has also given me the opportunity to create a life where I am able to help others battling similar things. Sometimes, I get very depressed over the amount of time I have lost due to my health, but I try to remember that while I don’t believe my mental illnesses happened for a reason, I have been given the gift of turning my health challenges on their head and using them to create a more beautiful world. My hope is that my experience with schizoaffective disorder in particular can be used to resonate with others while helping to break the stigma that surrounds schizophrenia as a whole. If you are battling schizophrenia or any of its subtypes, I want you to know that you are not alone. You have done nothing wrong, and you deserve space to be seen, loved, and understood. I am standing there with you.

Joanna Fanuko

Finding the Humor in Mental Health

A lot, when you can find humor in the healing. My psychiatrist asked me for months, “And how is your sugar?” For months, I answered back, “He’s good. Helpful and very supportive!” I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that he was asking me about my sugar levels. He thought that I was diabetic. I must have accidentally checked a wrong box on my intake form. I laughed all day remembering how I let him know each week how my boyfriend was doing. Mental illness sounds, and is, so scary. It can be isolating, lonely and painful. That is why I frequently use humor to make light and sense of what I go through. We can see it in the many faces that mental illness takes on. A person may seem outwardly happy and “fine,” while suffering silently on the inside. Look at the countless entertainers who we hear about that suffered with a smile on their face (actor and comedian Robin Williams for example). I make it a point of checking in with my friends who may be externally exuberant, because mental illness can come in any form, shape, color, size or package. In the many times that I spent catatonic and in the throws of psychosis, laughter — even if just internally — helped me to keep going and fighting through it. I will never forget a psychiatric nurse who made my morning a little brighter when I had to walk daily while experiencing catatonia by singing the song “1, 2 Step” by Ciara to me and getting me to dance in the process. Special medical providers like her always hold a forever place in my heart. Humor, even if it’s a little dark or morbid, has helped me make sense of the pain and suffering that I went through on the journey of life with mental illness. I laugh sometimes when I read about and watch fictional characters such as DC Comics’ Harley Quinn, because I did a lot of laughing through the often frightening moments of hearing voices (auditory hallucinations) while I was in active psychosis. Maybe humor creates meaning out of chaotic situations. Or at the very least it makes it more bearable. I said to my mom one day when she visited me in the psychiatric hospital, “I hate your genes.” She asked my sister, “Why does she hate my mom jeans?” And my sister had to translate to her, “No, she means that she hates the genetics that she inherited.” I am lucky to be able to laugh about this with my family now. Mental illness is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Laughter can scientifically release chemicals such as endorphins, like dopamine and serotonin. It is no replacement for prescriber medical treatment, but it may lighten the tense load. I don’t want to sugarcoat any of it — mental illness sucks. But for me, my personal journey with my mental health struggles includes openness, feelings of gratitude towards the gaining traction surrounding conversations on the importance of caring for our collective mental wellness, and daily laughter about the moments that are difficult to get through. I hope that we continue to normalize talking about mental illness and begin to heal with a little bit of humor. And my sugar? He’s doing just fine; thanks for asking.

Joanna Fanuko

Finding the Humor in Mental Health

A lot, when you can find humor in the healing. My psychiatrist asked me for months, “And how is your sugar?” For months, I answered back, “He’s good. Helpful and very supportive!” I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that he was asking me about my sugar levels. He thought that I was diabetic. I must have accidentally checked a wrong box on my intake form. I laughed all day remembering how I let him know each week how my boyfriend was doing. Mental illness sounds, and is, so scary. It can be isolating, lonely and painful. That is why I frequently use humor to make light and sense of what I go through. We can see it in the many faces that mental illness takes on. A person may seem outwardly happy and “fine,” while suffering silently on the inside. Look at the countless entertainers who we hear about that suffered with a smile on their face (actor and comedian Robin Williams for example). I make it a point of checking in with my friends who may be externally exuberant, because mental illness can come in any form, shape, color, size or package. In the many times that I spent catatonic and in the throws of psychosis, laughter — even if just internally — helped me to keep going and fighting through it. I will never forget a psychiatric nurse who made my morning a little brighter when I had to walk daily while experiencing catatonia by singing the song “1, 2 Step” by Ciara to me and getting me to dance in the process. Special medical providers like her always hold a forever place in my heart. Humor, even if it’s a little dark or morbid, has helped me make sense of the pain and suffering that I went through on the journey of life with mental illness. I laugh sometimes when I read about and watch fictional characters such as DC Comics’ Harley Quinn, because I did a lot of laughing through the often frightening moments of hearing voices (auditory hallucinations) while I was in active psychosis. Maybe humor creates meaning out of chaotic situations. Or at the very least it makes it more bearable. I said to my mom one day when she visited me in the psychiatric hospital, “I hate your genes.” She asked my sister, “Why does she hate my mom jeans?” And my sister had to translate to her, “No, she means that she hates the genetics that she inherited.” I am lucky to be able to laugh about this with my family now. Mental illness is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Laughter can scientifically release chemicals such as endorphins, like dopamine and serotonin. It is no replacement for prescriber medical treatment, but it may lighten the tense load. I don’t want to sugarcoat any of it — mental illness sucks. But for me, my personal journey with my mental health struggles includes openness, feelings of gratitude towards the gaining traction surrounding conversations on the importance of caring for our collective mental wellness, and daily laughter about the moments that are difficult to get through. I hope that we continue to normalize talking about mental illness and begin to heal with a little bit of humor. And my sugar? He’s doing just fine; thanks for asking.

Joanna Fanuko

Being Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder After a Rape

Mind, body and spirit all require care. If one is being neglected, it affects the other two. Sometimes it can be a neglect or damage that is out of your control. This is the story of how my damaged mind, body and spirit became whole again. The beginning It begins well: a happy home, a supportive family, an excellent student. I never showed signs of having a mental illness. There was the emotional stage going through puberty, but these were the things I believe are typical of a teenage girl or boy. I got into a great college and was excelling there. Dreaming of Paris all my life, I decided to study abroad in France. That is when the unthinkable happened. I was sexually assaulted, and it was done by two young men whom I knew (or thought I knew) fairly well. It took a long time to recognize the gravity of what had happened to me. I came home about a month after my program was complete, but told almost no one what had happened. Back to school My junior year internship was coming up, and I began commuting into New York that summer. All seemed normal at the time. I was doing well at work, felt confident and productive, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Waking up from a complete fog in the middle of the night in downtown New York, I was completely disoriented and scared. Lucky for me, there was a police officer just down the block from where I awoke from my haze, and he called my parents. Not knowing what to do, I was taken to the emergency room that morning in a state of distress. I thought everything was an alternate reality. The best way to describe it is to say that everything that I saw, heard or touched around me seemed to be connected by some great cosmic plan. My clothes were intact, I had absolutely no drugs nor alcohol in my system, but I kept insisting that I had been drugged and raped. Tests were run on me, and the only explanation that doctors could give me and my family was that I had a psychotic break. Terminology aside, the next couple of months were not completely unpleasant. I was taken to a mental health residential facility after being severely overdosed on a mood stabilizing medication, but the nurses, doctors and other colorful characters who I met during this time kept me laughing and upbeat. In spite of the new and scary time for my family, I seemed to be in good hands. Back to school … again Taking a semester off from college in order to recover, I returned when I was well enough a few months later and resumed life as normal. No mention of sexual assault had been made while being treated. A common effect after a trauma such as rape is Stockholm Syndrome: I felt as though I needed to be closer to my predators, and felt as though they did no wrong for quite a while. I did not feel like the victim, so much as more the worthless girl who deserved what had happened. No one ever deserves sexual assault. It is a real crime and epidemic. I later had the strength to confirm that what I had encountered was a real crime by doing research on the Department of Defense website. However, I was often told not to take action because it would lead to more stress for myself. The best I could do in order to get myself out of my depression was to speak up about it to friends, family and supportive professionals. Before reaching this point, I became catatonic from depression after the semester I completed going back to college. Still, this was scarier for friends and family than it was for me because I only remember bits and pieces. I received about 10 ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) procedures in order to sufficiently pull me out of the nearly vegetative state. And thank God I did, because it pulled me out of the catatonia and I was able to go back to college a month later and complete my degree. Things are looking up! Things began looking up again. I found a great job after graduating and felt successful professionally and personally. But there was still something lying nearly dormant inside of me that was not addressed fully. After less than a year of going to work and feeling productive and happy, another ton of bricks hit me: I felt suicidal. It happened so abruptly all I could do was to call my doctor in the middle of the day, and he made an immediate appointment for me to see him. He called the facility that had helped me twice before in so many ways, and he said: I have a bipolar patient who needs a bed. It was the first time I heard a label. I thought, “I’m bipolar? This is getting serious…” Labels aren’t everything, though. Or are they? Again, a short stint in the mental health facility and I was on my feet again, just with a new “burden.” I was bipolar. It shocked me. I bought every book about the disorder and tried to educate myself on something I was going through firsthand. Still, it felt overly critical. Every mood that I felt, I thought, “Oh I’m manic now,” or, “Aha! This is that nasty depressive episode that I was warned would come…” It was difficult to lead a normal life. I came to realize that there is no right way of living, and there is no perfection. This took a long time to accept, being the perfectionist I had grown up as. I’m no doctor, but I have been on every medication under the sun. I cannot prescribe, but I know how each one affected me, and it has taken years to come down to the correct concoction. There were brief times when I completely stopped taking medication, with or without a doctor order, and I have to say that this is not smart idea for me. When I consistently worked with my current doctor in order to be able to get to this level of clarity and contentment without over-medication, boy, did that feel good. I never gave up hope that I would someday reach this point, though there were incredibly difficult periods of time where I came very close. Almost there… One last hurdle had to be jumped before I could reach my level of zen: the voices. I began hearing voices, again very abruptly. And they would not go away no matter what medication I took. It felt as though I was in that alternate reality again, with visualizations daily that were termed as hallucinations and terrifying tactile hallucinations where I would wake up at night feeling as though I was being raped again. This was not a fun time, as one could imagine. And it lasted for three years, unbearably. Here is where the moral of my story comes in: what got rid of these voices and hallucinations. I spoke up, I told my family exactly what I was feeling and thinking and I stopped being afraid. I told myself enough is enough, and that this was a symptom of a disorder. Once this happened, and I explained it to my doctor and therapist, the voices disappeared. It felt like a true miracle. I sought help for myself, learned DBT skills which help me when I am distressed or in need of a mindful moment, and pushed from the darkness into the light again by taking care of my mind, body and spirit. I’ll leave you with this My advice after all the turmoil is this: having a mental illness does not define you, and don’t let it! I was later diagnosed with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizoaffective disorder. The labels sound a bit worrisome, but there is treatment available if you are honest about what you are going through and seek help. Don’t focus on the label, but rather learning new ways to cope and deal with your situation. Some of the smartest and most creative talents and leaders have succeeded in spite of their mental disorders. And always speak up about what you are going through. You are not alone, and there are millions of others going through what you may be going through who can relate. Never give up hope, you can shine like the stars in spite of the darkness of night. Originally published on Challenge the Storm If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via lolostock

Community Voices

I am with you. #youarenotalone

I am with you.

I am with you if you need a hug
I am with you if you need the drug
I am with you if you take that drink
I am with you if you are on the brink
I am with you if your back is breaking
I am with you if your heart is aching
I am with you if the world around us
Falls apart and fear surrounds us
I am with you through the very end
I am with you if you need a friend.

If you are struggling these past few days, know that you are not alone.
I love you.
You are doing great.

#Selfcare #youarenotalone #wewillgetthrough #Together #Bekind

Sherrie Hurd

Don't Judge People With Mental Health Disabilities

I am young and disabled. Well, let’s just say I’m under 50 and living with mental illness, and have been doing so for five years. To many people, I am “lazy” and just don’t want to work. Living with disabilities and dealing with the assumptions of society make life much more difficult. Disabilities come in many forms. My disability is a mental disorder. In fact, it’s two illnesses, bipolar disorder and severe anxiety. To the public, this is often not really considered a disability. To me, it’s a difficult way of life. In the past, when I told the first person about my disability, I got that look — you know, the one you get when people judge you. I was confused. I thought confessing my problems to a friend would help me handle my disabilities. Maybe I could even build a support system. The support system part was a good idea. The mistake was picking the wrong person to help me. I know the mistake I made now, but then, I was hurt. I was devastated by the remarks and criticism from someone I thought was understanding. This was someone who supported those with physical disabilities and even went the extra mile to help them. I often watched with pride being inspired by the actions of this friend. Now, let me start calling this person an acquaintance because, since then, I’ve changed my circle. I’m worth it. It took a while to understand the problem wasn’t me. I wasn’t lazy, nor was I using the government to take care of me. I was sick. I am sick. Sometimes the days are almost impossible to complete. Over time, after admitting my position in life to others, I’ve learned who really cares and who wants to live in a bubble. I am no longer angry about the assumptions. I feel sorry for those who cannot wrap their minds around the fact that mental health disabilities are real. I know now that I am worth the same as when I tried to hold down a job unsuccessfully, and when relationships spiraled out of control. Back then I didn’t see my worth, but now I see just how strong I was. To go through such hell in the past and come out with dignity was a feat many never accomplish. I am no better or worse than anyone else, but I will take pride in my accomplishments. No one gets to write off mentally disabled people. I am an advocate for them. I stand tall and make the ignorant look at what non-disabled people try to misunderstand. I know they have the capacity to get it. It’s just like how much I hate math, but If I tried hard enough, even I would grow to love it. Well, at least I would get better at calculations. That’s what it’s like. Mental health disabilities look ugly to some members of society, I know. So, how do you think it feels to the one who endures the pain? The truth Being disabled isn’t always about wheelchairs and leg braces, though sometimes that’s the case. But sometimes a disability looks like a physically healthy woman of 45 laughing at a few jokes. Maybe disabilities look like men at the gym with their friends. Maybe you cannot judge what disabilities are supposed to look like. Maybe you can just accept the fact that people are getting help. People are trying to survive, and they need support. I am young, compared to some, and I am disabled. In fact, I’ve probably always been disabled. I have mental illnesses, and in the past two years even developed quite a few physical conditions as well. I am not bitter at those who don’t understand. I am sad. I have hopes that eventually society can take others at their word. Remember this, just because “we don’t look sick” doesn’t mean we aren’t. When I look at you, I don’t guess at your intelligence or wealth. So, see me at face value and get to know me for who I am. I think there are millions who want the same thing.

Sherrie Hurd

Don't Judge People With Mental Health Disabilities

I am young and disabled. Well, let’s just say I’m under 50 and living with mental illness, and have been doing so for five years. To many people, I am “lazy” and just don’t want to work. Living with disabilities and dealing with the assumptions of society make life much more difficult. Disabilities come in many forms. My disability is a mental disorder. In fact, it’s two illnesses, bipolar disorder and severe anxiety. To the public, this is often not really considered a disability. To me, it’s a difficult way of life. In the past, when I told the first person about my disability, I got that look — you know, the one you get when people judge you. I was confused. I thought confessing my problems to a friend would help me handle my disabilities. Maybe I could even build a support system. The support system part was a good idea. The mistake was picking the wrong person to help me. I know the mistake I made now, but then, I was hurt. I was devastated by the remarks and criticism from someone I thought was understanding. This was someone who supported those with physical disabilities and even went the extra mile to help them. I often watched with pride being inspired by the actions of this friend. Now, let me start calling this person an acquaintance because, since then, I’ve changed my circle. I’m worth it. It took a while to understand the problem wasn’t me. I wasn’t lazy, nor was I using the government to take care of me. I was sick. I am sick. Sometimes the days are almost impossible to complete. Over time, after admitting my position in life to others, I’ve learned who really cares and who wants to live in a bubble. I am no longer angry about the assumptions. I feel sorry for those who cannot wrap their minds around the fact that mental health disabilities are real. I know now that I am worth the same as when I tried to hold down a job unsuccessfully, and when relationships spiraled out of control. Back then I didn’t see my worth, but now I see just how strong I was. To go through such hell in the past and come out with dignity was a feat many never accomplish. I am no better or worse than anyone else, but I will take pride in my accomplishments. No one gets to write off mentally disabled people. I am an advocate for them. I stand tall and make the ignorant look at what non-disabled people try to misunderstand. I know they have the capacity to get it. It’s just like how much I hate math, but If I tried hard enough, even I would grow to love it. Well, at least I would get better at calculations. That’s what it’s like. Mental health disabilities look ugly to some members of society, I know. So, how do you think it feels to the one who endures the pain? The truth Being disabled isn’t always about wheelchairs and leg braces, though sometimes that’s the case. But sometimes a disability looks like a physically healthy woman of 45 laughing at a few jokes. Maybe disabilities look like men at the gym with their friends. Maybe you cannot judge what disabilities are supposed to look like. Maybe you can just accept the fact that people are getting help. People are trying to survive, and they need support. I am young, compared to some, and I am disabled. In fact, I’ve probably always been disabled. I have mental illnesses, and in the past two years even developed quite a few physical conditions as well. I am not bitter at those who don’t understand. I am sad. I have hopes that eventually society can take others at their word. Remember this, just because “we don’t look sick” doesn’t mean we aren’t. When I look at you, I don’t guess at your intelligence or wealth. So, see me at face value and get to know me for who I am. I think there are millions who want the same thing.

Why You Don't Have to Apologize for Having Bipolar Disorder

There’s a misconception out there that if a person has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, what they really have is an indelible flaw. A crack in their character. The possessor of a healthy, normal mind gone wrong. There are a multitude of adjectives someone could use to describe what they think about a person living with bipolar disorder, but flawed, cracked and “wrong” are all far from accurate. Yet, I know for the person struggling with the disorder, the aforementioned words can seem all too descriptive of how they are feeling inside day in and day out. I remember I had my very first mental breakdown when I was 16. The depression that swallowed me whole and pulled me under, the panic that propelled the voices in my mind into infinite screaming matches and the persistent paranoia that refused to let me rest. I was always on high alert. Always distrustful of everyone. Even my family. Even myself. I was suffocating, and no amount of oxygen could give me peace of mind. I learned to not care about my own well-being. I leaned more towards dying than living. The fact that there were people who loved me was a moot point. If I could not learn to love myself, there was no point to life. Fast forward to three months and some weight gain later, I had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, placed on medication and sent back to my senior year of high school. I was flying high, feeling invincible, like I could do anything and the world would be in awe. It was pure euphoria. I had no idea that euphoria was completely false. What I was really experiencing was mania. The girl who returned to school I wouldn’t recognize today. I went from having a quiet, shy demeanor and a 4.5 GPA to pulling D’s and F’s, asking an English teacher out to prom and trying to meet up with numerous guys on the internet. The depression I felt three months prior had dissipated as the danger of elevated moods that mania brings surfaced. I was hospitalized almost six months later only to be diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. When released, I was so numb I could not even begin to understand my diagnosis. Only time would be a true teacher of what it meant to live with bipolar disorder. That breakdown at 16 would not be my last. Almost 18 years later, at times I still feel myself getting slapped around by the illness. Some days it throws several cards at me at once, leaving me scrambling to make sense of an unpredictable life. And other days it has me so completely, mercilessly under its thumb, I question any existence of a real life at all. Still, even with all the hardship, angst and true terror this illness can incur, I won’t ever apologize for having bipolar disorder. I cannot control the symptoms I may go through as a result of bipolar disorder just as a person cannot control the symptoms of the flu. And though bipolar disorder is not who I am, it has played a large role in shaping the person I am today. I am stronger, wiser and unapologetically me. I have a greater appreciation for life and everything wonderful it can bring. I never take a simple happy day for granted. For anyone to say one illness is more brutal or harsher than another is simply unfair and ignorant. Being a prisoner of one’s own mind is standing in a jail cell no person would want to be in. And when you’re going through life experiencing periods of elation and thrills one moment and then terrifying, devastating depression and anxiety the next, it is so hard to calm your mind, especially when you’re experiencing delusions. And our pain can be so great our emotional distress can even manifest itself as physical, somatic symptoms. Like anyone else who is struggling, people with bipolar disorder need time to heal. After every manic episode. After every bout of depression. And the timeline for every patient is different. Not all of us have learned how to give ourselves a break. Sometimes the illness is louder than our own voice. And we need to know that the pain bipolar disorder brings will not last forever. Things can and will get better. Sometimes they may have to get worse before they get better, but happiness is in our paths, always. If you are living with bipolar disorder, don’t be ashamed of having to take medication. Doesn’t a patient with a heart condition need medication to live? Don’t be embarrassed about going to therapy. We all need someone to listen and help us work through whatever problems we are going through. Most of all, don’t feel “wrong” or flawed or cracked for having bipolar disorder. Every day you decide to get up in the morning, you are your own sign of success. It might take baby steps to get to where you want to be in life, to get used to having bipolar disorder. It might take a team of people to help you accept that you have it and help you understand it, b ut having it does not make you any less of a human being, or any less normal. We cannot and should not judge ourselves by other people’s standards. You are resilient. Perhaps you haven’t discovered that yet, but you will. Lastly, you are not alone in this. There are millions like us fighting the struggle. And while there are many problems in life you may blame yourself for, having bipolar disorder should never be one of them.

Joanna Fanuko

Finding Hope in My Decision to Attend Graduate School During COVID-19

I’ve lived through anxiety and paranoia during times of “normalcy.” What we are experiencing now is so far left field: the whole world is living through a pandemic. This is a moment where anxiety, fear and paranoid thoughts have become status quo as we navigate the coronavirus (COVID-19) as a worldwide community. Anyone can attest to their mental health being affected by the frightening times we are living in. I am hoping as you read this article, you find hope in the glimmer of positive words. After nearly a decade of struggling with mental illness, my symptoms were subdued by the right combination of medication, empowerment through therapy and hard work put in by myself and my support system. The past few years have improved dramatically my ability to function as a human being in spite of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and schizoaffective disorder. I am thankful for what I have been able to overcome. As I became increasingly stable, I went through yoga teacher training and started teaching at a studio. My relationships with my family and friends began to thrive. I was able to work for longer periods of time. The future began to look bright and not so bleak as I found self-love and appreciation for my resilience. You can imagine — and likely also felt — the feeling of my sinking heart when COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt. Resilience is what I have seen in the world these past several months. Strength in coming together, separate but one in the fight to survive as a global community is what I have seen the most. I know I am not alone in worry over what happens next. But I am surely hopeful as I hear stories of the world coming together in spite of the medical crisis we are experiencing. I was among the many out of work due to the pandemic. The added fear of my mental health deteriorating kept me on my toes. What I chose to do next was something that has been within me since before my battle with trauma and illness: I applied and began graduate school in the field of social work. It may have seemed crazy at the time. The world is in an entropic chaos. But I felt like it was now or never to follow my dream of helping others the way I was helped. If it hadn’t been for my social workers, nurses, counsellors, doctors, friends and family alike who have helped me through countless internal crises I have experienced, I surely would not be alive today to write this story. So I am here to tell you about hope. Others gave me hope initially when I could not find it within myself. Once I was well enough to work on self-love and gratitude, then I knew I would be nowhere if I did not place importance on hope for myself. With the hope I’ve found, I can see this too shall pass. Looking to the future after years of practicing living in the moment has me confident in knowing that we will get through this trying time. I am hopeful that if we continue to help each other through the darkness, the light will prevail. I don’t think I was mistaken in taking on graduate school. It is what I always wanted. It will lend me the ability to lend a hand to others the way I was lifted up during times of need. The lessons I have learned in battling the inner war of my mind have taught me to keep going, never give up and ride the waves of life. You are stronger than you think. There will be bad days. But there will also be good ones. Know this is not forever. And have hope and faith in yourself. What you get through today in this moment will be the butterfly effect of the great things you will do tomorrow. For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community: Mental Health Resources to Help You Cope During COVID-19 For Anyone Who Needs to Hear This: It’s OK to Just Exist Right Now Making the Most Out of Virtual Mental Health Appointments 7 Things to Do If Social Distancing Is Triggering Your Depression