Her Message:
“My message is … I would like for people to know, mainly specially for young teenagers, young ladies, from the ages, maybe 9 and up, that I am a strong survivor. And I want them to know that I am a survivor of family incest. And here I’m at the age of 44 years old and actually you can say I was raped at age 2 months old. So, I am a strong survivor, and I’m here to let the ladies know that … if I made it through, that you can make it through, too. And there is hope, and sometimes you feel like giving up, but there is a sun that’s gonna shine and not to never give up and to let somebody walk with you and to hold your hand and … let you know that you can do it.”

Shirley is in her 40’s and was first hospitalized with schizophrenia in her late teens. She is the youngest of 11 children, and there is a strong history of mental illness in her family. She was sexually abused by her father, beginning when she was only 2-months old, and later by her older brothers, as well. The abuse continued until she was 16-years old, and in all that time she had no one to protect her. Although Shirley reported the abuse to her mother, she did nothing to intervene​. Shirley felt an absence of love and security that continues to be a source of regret.

Shirley: I always wanted a mother, a mother love … I always wanted a mother that I can go to and lean on her shoulders and tell her anything about me, ask her any kind of questions that I need to know. When I go to my mother, it’s like she think everything that I say to her is a joke. She laughs about stuff, and I guess I’m not really accepting that because she’s the only mother I have and I don’t have another mother to talk to. But to find comfort, I did find comfort in going to my church home, finding a god-mother which is 80 years old that I can talk to and she will listen to me.

Shirley experiences considerable anxiety about leaving the house, yet she has the strong desire to work and contribute to the world around her.

Shirley: Sometimes I find myself being paranoid around people. I find myself paranoid getting on the buses and stuff like that and crowds of people… I’m thinking people [are] looking at me the wrong way or, somebody’s watching me or something. I’m still struggling trying to get a G.E.D. I want it; I always wanted it … I don’t have a G.E.D. or a high school diploma, and I’m still trying to get that. I believe that everything and anything is possible. Pathways is helping me right now with trying to find me a job. They know and see that I’m ready for work … that’s gonna be a big step in my life to make me feel better, to make me feel like I am somebody.
Interviewer: Why is working important to you?
Shirley: Working is important to me because I believe that if it’s anything in life that you want or need, you [are] supposed to work for it. You [are] not supposed to ask nobody or borrow from people … because if you have the ability to work for it, and there’s nothing wrong, then you should be able to work for it. But some people, I guess, don’t work because maybe they don’t have legs or arms and stuff like that maybe. But I feel like I wanna be motivated. I wanna get going. I got a strong desire [to] get going. I don’t really have a lot of work experience in my life, but I’m willing to do whatever and I believe that I can do whatever job that’s offered to me.

Shirley loves dogs, and she lives with her little Yorkshire terrier, Fluffy, who has helped her deal with her anxiety about leaving home and makes her feel more confident out in the world.

Shirley: I have me a dog. It’s a little Yorkie and … I got her as a therapy dog, and she helps to keep me company. She makes me laugh. She helps me to get out the house and moving. Because before I got her, I wouldn’t go out [of] the house. So now, since I have her, I enjoy walking with her, taking her walks to the park. She makes me laugh a lot because … I mean that’s the only thing that makes me really laugh a lot is dogs…. If I have a bad day, I can be going down the street and see a dog, and the dog … I just look at him and he’ll make me smile. And that might be the first smile that I’ve smiled all day (laughs).

Shirley’s strong desire to help others comes through clearly in her message.

Listen to an expanded version of the above excerpt as well as Shirley’s message here.