“I don’t blame myself for my struggle because I understand the trauma that created it.”
A lot of times, when the general public thinks of people who live with mental illness they immediately think of how such diseases can be debilitating and prevent people from fully living their lives. However, at CarePlus when we think of these individuals we are quick to associate their struggles with their victories because we are fortunate enough to see so many successfully embark on the road to wellness.
There are many factors that come together to create hard times, and these moving parts are unique to each and every individual on the planet. One of the best ways to increase awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health is through storytelling: everybody has a tale to tell, and there is much to be gained by their sharing.
Take for instance our friend Tony, who has been in an out of mental health services for many years. Although he was born in New York, by the time he was two years old he was living in Colombia with his family. There he learned the power of love by observing the beautiful relationship between his grandparents, and he fantasized of one day returning to the US to live the great American Dream.
When he first returned to America at the age of 16 he struggled with being homeless; abandoned by his legal guardian from day one and left to fend for himself on the streets, speaking very little English. Somehow he made it through the trials and tribulations and he lives to tell his story.
“I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives.”
Overcoming obstacles throughout the journey of life is no easy feat, especially when it feels that all of the odds are stacked against you. The things is, when you come to call streets home you begin to see all different types of people from all different walks of life… that’s when you have no choice but to learn to release your fears, forget your judgements, and make the most of what you’ve got.
There are no determining factors for who will end up in such a position: the star of our story has always been a hard worker, has never fell victim to the drug life, and has genuinely believed in a better tomorrow despite the overwhelming evidence that has suggested it may not ever come.
When the going gets rough, there is nothing like innovation to help you through. There were times when the only thing Tony could afford was a gym membership, which may seem counter-intuitive. The reason for that is because while he was homeless he wanted to ensure that he could still appear presentable enough to land a job. The gym membership allowed for him to maintain his health and personal hygiene, despite the fact he was sleeping in his small hatchback car.
“You can cry about it, or you can laugh about it.”
As we get older, it’s only reasonable to hope for life to slow down a bit. Now imagine that you have to hop buses from job to job; from appointment to appointment; from friend to friend. No matter what age you are, that kind of activity can be exhausting. Once again the protagonist of our story finds a way to make it work.
Not only is he able to get around and live a well-functioning life, but he also goes out of his way to benefit others in every way that he can. Whether that means spreading smiles, giving hugs, or sharing laughter – he certainly has the will, and so he always finds a way.
Perhaps the greatest joy our friend has found is the healing power of music. As a self-taught musician who learned to play guitar while he was in a psychiatric ward, he says that music is not just a hobby; the guitar saved his life. He warmly recalls times where he would wrap his arms around the wooden body to cuddle at night because his love for it has always been so real.
Now he brings this therapeutic entertainment wherever he can because he understands the impact it can have on any persons overall well-being. He shared that CarePlus has given him a new sense of home: a place to feel loved and supported. When he’s feeling drained and energy is low, his friends are here to recharge him and remind him of how great he truly is.
“The best people I’ve found are here.”
Not only does the CarePlus community provide a sense of family, but it also provides Tony with a sense of purpose. He admits that his past trauma brings him down from time to time, making him still feel homeless at heart even though he is grateful to have a roof over his head. What helps him recover from these feelings is being able to make others feel better. Being the source of positive energy for so many at CarePlus has been a powerful experience that reminds him of his value and worth.
At the end of the day, Tony may not be living the typical American Dream. But with over 300 songs written and an infinite amount of kindness shared from his heart, we see Tony as a warrior that is fighting to make the world a better place. It is our hope that he will continue to courageously share his story, empower others with his truth, and find great confidence knowing he is a real life success story.