Vickie O’Bryant is 56 year old, divorced woman who has lived independently in her current apartment for seven years. Vickie enjoys playing guitar, singing in her church’s choir, socializing with friends, drawing and writing.
As a child, Vickie suffered from dyslexia, which made learning to read very difficult.
Listen to Vickie speak about this experience here:
Fortunately, she had supportive parents who helped her get through her schooling. This paid off, as later in life Vickie not only gained employment writing reports for a failure analysis lab, but she has also written a book about her experience with schizophrenia called Searching for Light.
Although school was a struggle, she did graduate. After high school, Vickie decided to enlist in the Air Force, where she spent almost four years as an administrative specialist. After her time in the Air Force, Vickie was faced with the difficult decision of whether to stay there in Denver, Colorado, or to return home to Columbus, Ohio:
My parents were living in Columbus, so it was a hard decision because I had made friends out there. And one friend was, I was very close with. She was old enough to be my mother, and I was very close to her. And she was my Bible study teacher, and she taught me a lot about the Bible and about life and how to take care of myself. And she was such a good friend that I decided that I wanted to stay out there and get a job. And that hurt my family. And, I really didn’t mean to hurt my family. But I did because I was young and I didn’t know any better.
In Denver, Vickie first worked as a parlor maid in a hotel, next in an employment office and then in a failure analysis lab, where she was responsible for typing the final reports. While she enjoyed the job, it was a stressful time for her, as she was working a lot of overtime hours. In 1985, Vickie began having nightmares. She did not feel safe anywhere and developed delusions that someone was trying to kill her:
Wherever it was, either at work or at the grocery store, or coming home on the bus, I was just frightened. And, I was really believing these nightmares. And, I was on a diet. I was trying to lose a lot of weight, and I lost a lot of weight. And then I was–. At one point, I worked overtime, and I was working eighty hours a week. I was working twelve hour shifts every day, and I did that for, like, maybe two or three months. And I don’t know if that was part of the reason why I got sick–I’m sure it probably was. I was only twenty-six years old or twenty-seven when that happened. And I was afraid. I was so afraid I would just keep–I kept everything inside. I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t tell my friends. I didn’t tell my parents. I kept it all inside and I didn’t tell anybody. And the worst thing was I just gave up hope. I left my job and I told–I called my boss the day I was leaving, and I said I didn’t feel good and I wanted to go to the hospital. And it was on a weekend. This was Friday and I said, “Oh, I should be back Monday. Maybe I’ll be better Monday morning.” But even though I told him that, that’s not what I really did. I called my mom to make sure she was home, and she said she was gonna be there all day. And I told her I was gonna go to work. She asked me what I was gonna do, and I said, “I’m gonna go to work.”, but I just told her that because I was–didn’t want to tell anything. I just kept it all inside because I was afraid that if I did tell someone, it would happen – that somebody would kill me.
Listen to the above excerpt here:
Vickie returned that day to Columbus to stay with her family, but she refused to talk to anyone about what she was going through. Even though she felt more comfortable with her family, she still did not feel safe enough to tell them what was really going on with her:
Vickie: I didn’t tell her then what was going on. And things was getting worse. I was just–things weren’t making sense to me. My sister came to pick me up and take me over to her house, and I spent a week with her and my niece and my nephew; they were small children. And I was just so scared. I didn’t, and my sister–we were really close, and I used to tell her everything. I would always tell her everything. And, but I refused to tell anybody anything. And, it got worse. My body was breaking down, I mean, my mind was just breaking down, and I was scared. I would go into the shakes, and I wouldn’t tell anything. I wouldn’t say anything.
Interviewer: Still too afraid to say anything?
Vickie: I was very afraid. And I remember that I was at my parents’ house, and I wouldn’t sleep by myself. I would go into my parents’ bedroom and sleep on the floor. I was so scared, and I was afraid to sleep, and I got to the point where I was having trouble going to the bathroom and, not being able to use the restroom. Not being able to eat very much. Finally, my brother-in-law, my sister and my brother-in-law came because we were gonna go eat out. And I didn’t go. I refused to go eat out. And my sister and brother-in-law went behind, you know, went in the other room, and my sister told my dad, “This is strange. Maybe you should take Vickie to the hospital.” So that’s what they did. And they took me to the VA hospital, and I was there for two months.
It was at this hospital where Vickie was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and began treatment for the first time. Two years later, at the age of 30, Vickie got married. They had a son the following year. Vickie described having problems as a new mother, making “all kinds of mistakes,” and she was diagnosed with postpartum depression. She was also still having difficulty with schizophrenia, going in and out of the hospital, so she and her husband eventually divorced. Her husband was awarded full custody of their son, and Vickie received visiting rights. After the divorce, Vickie began a relationship with another man, and she gave birth to second son. Like before, Vickie was unsure of her parenting abilities:
I was having trouble. I smoked cigarettes real bad, and I was a bit leery whether I should take care of my baby. I wanted to take care of him, and I probably should have tried. But instead, my cousin wanted him. And she asked me if I could give him to her. And I said, “Yeah. I think that would be a good idea.” She wanted to take him and raise him. And she said that I could get to see him any time I wanted to. And I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” My parents thought that was a good idea too. And then I signed papers. And I didn’t know what I was signing ‘cause I really didn’t read them and my cousin said that I was just signing some insurance papers. And little did I know that within five or six years later, I wouldn’t be allowed to see him at all.
After the divorce, Vickie began writing a book about her struggles with schizophrenia and depression, but it took her almost fifteen years to complete it. Due to multiple computer problems that resulted in her work being deleted, Vickie had to write her book four separate times. Vickie’s persistence did eventually pay off; her book has been published and is available for purchase on Amazon via the following link: Searching for Light. She derives great pleasure from this validation of her efforts:
Vickie: Yeah, it was worthwhile to me to do that and it was one of the–. I mean, that was the top accomplishments that I’ve ever done in my life is to write a book, and I’m so proud of myself for that.
Interviewer: Can you say a little bit about why that’s important to you, why that sense of accomplishment is important to you?
Vickie: Well, I feel like I can be up there right along with the other people who’ve authored books. Right up there with, you know, people who have got their books published and that’s just really important to me. I mean, I really enjoy the pat on the back from family members and from my friends and at church and–. And when I tell them I wrote a book, and they just open their eyes and they say, “Wow! You? You wrote a book?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah I did.”
Interviewer: That must feel good.
Vickie: It does! It feels good. It feels like wow! And it makes me feel good.
Listen to an expanded version of the above excerpt here:
Vickie has been doing well for a number of years, having not been hospitalized since 1998. Currently, her focus is on maintaining a clean apartment, cooking for herself every day and saving up some money to buy a car. Writing her book was one dream that she has recently accomplished. Her other dream involves the car that she is hoping to eventually get:
And I have another dream, to get a car and to be able to have a new freedom to take—. I have a friend that’s in a wheelchair, and she can’t always get a ride to church. And I have a dream that I can take her to church, pick her up and take her to church and take her home. And I have a dream that I can also use my car to get a job and get back in the workforce and get a little more money ahead and just try to live a better life for myself.
As she identified above, Vickie’s second dream involves helping others. Helping others is also why she wanted to tell her story:
Vickie: And I like to be a witness to other people to let other people know that if I can do it, then they can too. Other people can do that.
Interviewer: Is that why you wanted to talk to us today?
Interviewer: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Interviewer: Why you wanted to participate in this project, tell folks your story.
Vickie: I wanted to help people. I wanted to tell people that it’s not easy, and I wanted to tell people to just stick with their medicine and stick with going to the doctors and stick with telling the doctors everything about what’s going on and not being afraid to say everything. Open up and not be afraid. And not be afraid to tell others the mistakes we make and being willing to say it’s okay. It’s okay. I made a mistake and it’s okay, and I’m gonna do better. And that’s what I wanna tell other people.