This is Me

BY Elizabeth Accordino
My Journey with Mental Illness

This is me. My resilience has gotten me this far. I wish I can tell you step by step for each ladder I had to climb. I can’t. Some of those ladders I had a person behind me, holding me up. Other circumstances weren’t as ideal. I had to fall, and at times I stayed there on the ground in deep depression. If only there was a way that I can explain the pain and hurt of traumatic experiences throughout my journey, even after I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. I didn’t know where the ladders would take me but I had to keep going up. Not once did I think that I had to beat the illness. It was almost irrelevant, at least that’s what I chose to believe in order to climb through the stigmas and stereotypes of this disease. I was preoccupied with medication side effects, learning the difference between my delusions and reality, and fighting the fear of my hallucinations. I had many doubts, low self-confidence and, somehow, disbelief that I had a mental illness. What made my ladder stronger were the therapists, the groups, my peers (that we were all in this battle together against ourselves), my family and friends.

For a long time, I felt ashamed to have a mental health diagnosis. At that time of my life, I saw mental illness as a weakness. I didn’t want to be identified with all the stereotypes and stigmas that came along with this illness: unable to work, child-like, a liar, and inadequate to function normally in the community. One thing I knew was I wanted to work. After my second hospitalization in 2015, I resided at a higher level of care program widely known as a group home. Altogether, I stayed there for one year, at this housing program I wasn’t permitted to go outside by myself, no cellphones unless requested, no razors, I received my medication from the nurse where the medication was locked up and the most of chores I had to do was make my bed and laundry. The program consisted of group therapy, Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm. This program helped me remember that all hope wasn’t lost to function normally again. As I was waiting to get placed in a lower level of housing due to my homeless status, I was online applying to job postings on Indeed and other job websites. I was driven to redefine myself despite the diagnosis and get back to work. I have past work experience in retail, I landed a job at Walgreens

I was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was twenty-four years old. Back then I was working as a Registrar at Hospital for Special Surgery. I worked there for two years but after I became sick I never went back. Firstly, I was so turned upside down by the symptoms that I couldn’t remember how to perform the job tasks that I did for two years. The other reason I didn’t return was because of the shame; I felt that I couldn’t work sufficiently. Before the onset of my mental health diagnosis, I graduated from Hunter College at twenty-two years old with my Bachelors in Psychology.

At twenty-seven years old, a short period of three years post-diagnosis, I was hired as a Case Manager in Supportive Housing. I worked at this past agency for two years before I openly shared that I have a mental illness; at the past agency a strict rule was in place that Case Managers couldn’t share any lived experience with the clients. Despite many boundaries, I had an enriching time working there, by seeing how easy it was for me to relate to my clients’ stories, working with peer specialists and attending the Stomp out Stigma NYAPRS conference. At the conference, I was able to share my poem, Hiding Mental Illness.

Hiding Mental Illness

Depression: Sadness.

Struggle: Symptoms.
Hiding; to function,

Conflicting: thoughts=

Where does the illness end
and I begin?
Tell me!

Mr./Mrs. Society?!
Where do I begin,
and the illness end?

Blocking, medicating a piece.
A piece of the whole.
Of me.


This poem stemmed from the darker truth that stigmas exist not only for me, but others around me, and even with professionals in the mental health field. My poem was published on the fifty-word stories website. Beginning my career as a Housing Case Manager, working with my population, attending the Stomp out Stigma conference and being published gave me the confidence and confirmation that my perspective on mental health was going in the right direction, climbing upward. Out of the fog and into the clouds, standing strong, going forward. I’m getting better every day, getting out of bed, going to work and being consistent with my mental health treatment. Working has especially helped me believe in myself and achieve independence. Today, I feel much more support working at Hands Across Long Island. I am free to openly discuss my lived experience with the tenants and I feel accepted instead of entirely stigmatized. I’ve grown less ashamed of my diagnosis and I am stronger. This new-found confidence bought me to study for my Masters in Social work. I was accepted to the online program at Sacred Heart University. I begin the program in January 2020.  

Group therapy had many benefits for me. Not only did I learn more terms to describe my symptoms. I grew knowledge about mindfulness, deep breathing, how to deal with racing thoughts and more. Along with my study of Buddhism, which also taught me how to be present and how the past does in fact exist, but I don’t have to live there every day. I studied different books on Buddhism and developed the skill to be present. Then I created my own analogy to be present more frequently. I created a visualization where there’s a crystal lake and I picture my inner self sitting at the edge of the lake looking at my reflection of the present, only what is happening right now.

Being in the here and now helps me focus and be less distracted with my racing thoughts, negative thoughts and/or negative voices. Going back to the crystal-lake visualization, the water is still, nothing touching the lake but a single pink petal from the Japanese Cherry Blossom tree hanging above the lake. The one petal symbolizes clear thinking, just watching the one petal is watching my thoughts come and go. When my symptoms are triggered by something in my immediate environment, I catch my racing thoughts. My visualization is the crystal lake but instead of the one petal, the entire surface of the lake is covered with petals from the racing thoughts, each petal is a thought. To help me clear the lake of the pink petals, in my imagination I add my two best friends with wind blowers to help me clear the lake, a clearer frame of mind or I change the visualization to one pink petal. Then I feel present and clear-minded again. 

Being present has been a huge part of my recovery process. With every new situation throughout the day and sometimes the ones that bring up flashbacks, I must refocus and train my mind to circle back to the present. I’m thankful that I am aware of turning my kaleidoscope of perspectives to know I have a choice to be accepting and loving of me. Instead of being drowned by the negative thoughts and negative past experiences, I push forward because I deserve it. There are many other ways I cope with my symptoms writing poetry, reading/writing quotes, painting, coloring, watching TV, but my main one is meditation and grounding my thoughts. I can’t stress how much it has been helpful to me to be mindful of my thoughts and feelings, I’m not tied down by what my mind chooses to focus on. I will feel the feelings. I will accept only what helps me keep climbing that ladder of life and I choose to keep climbing up. Wherever life takes me, I know that I want to love me all the way through. This is me. 

Feel the Feelings

Feel the feelings.
Feel the good,
Feel the bad.
Hold onto both.
Then let them pass.

When they happen
both will be fleeting.
Both will affect your life.
They are one of the same.

To live are both feelings,
good and bad.
They are equal.
Feelings come naturally with experience.

From moment to moment
I want to live.
Living is feeling
the good and the bad.
Because with them,
I feel alive.

BY Elizabeth Accordino



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Michelle Revello
4 years ago

Such a positive, raw and beautiful share. Elizabeth, a.k.a. ” E”, is very talented. I have had the privilege of listening to her tell her story publicly and am blessed to work with her at H.A.L.I.

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