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Voices for Recovery

Chelsea Kowal (05/14/2013)

Flashlights flicker through the window in my bedroom. I hear their voices- the voices of the cops right outside. I hear a knock on the front door. I glance at my alarm clock- 3:16, a time that would forever be etched in my mind. I answer the front door and they ask me if I drove the car in the front. I said no, that my mom had driven it. My mother came out of her room and then I heard those words… “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”

That night was the night that my fourth and final family member got in trouble and was arrested for a drug or alcohol addiction. That night I called my pastor and told her what happened. She said to me, “Kid, you’ve been given a story to tell.”

And that is the story I am sharing with you. The story of how I got from there to here.
As a child, drug names were thrown around as my oldest brother got hooked on drugs and eventually became a drug dealer. I was abused severely by various family members as a child.

I grew up in a home ravaged by drugs and alcohol. I am the only person in my family not to be an alcoholic, drug addict or drug dealer, although much of my family is now in recovery and doing much better.

My teenage years were not so much easier than those of my childhood. I was neglected by my mother as she started dating a man who I later found out was a drug dealer. School became my escape. In my freshman year of high school, I was in a few remedial courses and when I was in my senior year, I was in 5 Advanced Placement courses and two advanced courses, which was unheard of in my school.

The summer before my senior year of high school, my mother and I became homeless due to being evicted. I wanted nothing to do with her at the time, so I couch surfed at friends’ homes and also volunteered at a camp for children and adults with special needs. My late teen years were the first time I really started to deal with symptoms of my mental illness, now diagnosed as schizoaffective disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was hospitalized twice in high school.

After finally moving into an apartment with my mother after spending about 6 months homeless, I started to get acceptance letters from colleges. I was accepted into 9 colleges and waitlisted at MIT, Columbia and Johns Hopkins. But things became difficult when my oldest brother committed suicide in 2007.

Things got really difficult but I was excited to move forward in my life. I was excited to get away from the drama that had become my life. So I headed off to college, unaware of how much my troubles growing up had hurt me or how much the memories would haunt me and follow me.

My first two years in college went extremely well, but the turmoil within and the depression I was dealing with did not surface until my junior year, when I attempted suicide. I was forced to take a 10 month medical leave, in which I worked very hard on my healing. I made it through and I went back to complete my Bachelor’s degree. I graduated at the top of my class in college, with honors and 2 minors in the Honors Program.

I was offered a PhD position at another university, which I started last August. My disorders got much worse this past semester, but each day things seem to get better. I am now in the process of getting my Master’s degree. Overall, I have been hospitalized 10 times for my mental illnesses. I battle against depression, paranoia and psychosis. But each new day brings with it a promise of opportunity and a chance to make a difference in this world.

Lately, I have been blogging about my journey with mental illness because I want to raise awareness and bring hope to others struggling with mental illness. It is something that we deal with on a daily basis, but it does not have to become us. We are not our illnesses. We are human beings capable of making a difference in the world.

My blog can be found at


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