Victoria’s Message: I’m not looking for a Nobel Peace Prize or great sainthood. I’m just living a life that is remarkable because it’s unremarkable and just trying to do little things to help others—sometimes big things—and that’s how I try to live my life.

Victoria is a 46-year-old Caucasian female living in Santa Maria, California. She is married with three children and has a Master of Science degree in psychology. Victoria is a dedicated member of her family and the Catholic Church, which is reflected by the time and energy she puts towards those two parts of her life. She also spends a lot of time strengthening her friendships, reading books, and writing and publishing her own articles. She works proactively to become the best version of herself by educating herself, exercising, and maintaining a home environment conducive to healthy spiritual growth. As a lover of coffee and productivity, a typical morning for Victoria consists of drinking coffee, checking her email and websites, texting with her children, and sometimes hiking long distances with her two dogs – beagle and shepherd mixes. She also spends time with her father who is ill, valuing the time she has left with him. When asked about her best memory, she reminisced:  

Victoria: Well, right now because he’s been on my mind so much, time with my dad. You know, we would go to Mass every Sunday and then go to breakfast afterwards. Just sit and talk and drink coffee—drink a lot of coffee. 

Victoria was adopted and raised by two loving and supportive parents in Los Angeles, California. Despite a supportive atmosphere and “great childhood,” her teen years were marked by hard times. She describes this time period as her “rocky teenage years,” during which she rebelled against her reportedly strict and Catholic parents. She ended up homeless (by choice) in New York after high school, pursuing an acting career, and began using drugs. The turning point for Victoria came when a friend who was also homeless died in a fire where she was squatting, an event she describes as one of her worst memories. She still feels guilty about her friend’s death because she missed a scheduled meeting with her friend the day prior to the fire. This event triggered Victoria’s homecoming and entry to rehab. 

After Victoria’s “rocky teenage years,” she earned a college degree and got married. After a seemingly uneventful period, she experienced her first psychotic break at the age of 36. She believed she was receiving messages from God and that she was “doing great things for the [Catholic] church.” This time period, which lasted for about a year and a half, was perpetuated by her own thoughts, as well as a priest who believed that she was, in fact, receiving messages from God.  

When Victoria’s functioning deteriorated, she began reading about her symptoms online, and brought herself to a team of doctors at UCLA, suspecting she had schizophrenia. Victoria’s experience didn’t meet the ‘cookie-cutter’ definition for schizophrenia, as the age for onset is typically earlier, and so it took the doctors a few days to actually provide a diagnosis. After a period of severe depression, Victoria’s psychiatrist formally diagnosed her with schizoaffective disorder with bipolar tendencies. After her diagnosis, she sometimes drank heavily as a way to deal with the numbing-effect of her medications. Despite occasional setbacks, most of her coping mechanisms are very positive. 

Listen to Victoria talk about her experience with receiving a formal diagnosis here:

For Victoria, faith helps with symptom management, but also creates some challenges. For example, after her psychotic break when she believed she was receiving God’s messages, she turned away from religiosity because of confusion. At the time of the interview, she was working to reintegrate religious practice into her life with the help of a spiritual advisor. Victoria uses a number of strategies for symptom management and well-being, including prayer, medication, exercise, spending time with her dad in the hospital, and sensory stimulation like aroma therapy at home. Creating a productive home environment is very important to her, and sensory stimulation can help with medication side-effects and gives her something to connect with:  

Victoria: I use aroma therapy and I take spa baths and, you know, I have incense going or candles or—just my environment is very important to me, that it’s clean—. Very productive sort of days are my good days—the days that I’m productive—and writing is also very helpful, too. I’ve written a lot of articles that have been published by different people, different entities. 

At the time of the interview, Victoria was seeking employment to help alleviate financial strain on her husband. Her husband has been carrying them financially because of Victoria’s challenges connecting with disability and other social programs – something which is not uncommon at a systemic level. Despite periods of unemployment, she has been able to hold a number of difficult work positions, including one in the crisis department of a mental health organization. Changes in her employment status over the years have caused her to reflect on finding meaning in life when you don’t have a job, and this is the topic of a book she is in the process of writing. The excerpt below demonstrates her insight: 

Victoria: And then the book that I’m working on right now is about finding fulfillment in life not working, and it’s basically a whole book on all the ways. Because I’ve been on [Social Security] Disability for a year now and it’s just all the ways that I’ve found to fill my time with positive things to, you know— Because people retire, people go on disability and so often they’re—they’re at a loss for what to do with their time, and so the book just kind of talks about, you know, ways to combat depression while you’re not working. Because so often when you’re working, you have a purpose in life to go to a job every day and when you’re not working you’re just home and you’re just—You probably don’t have much money because you can’t spend a lot of money and it’s cool—it is a kind of cool book that I may finish one day. 

Despite having experienced a number of unique challenges throughout her life, Victoria maintains a remarkably normal life. In her free time, she likes to garden, travel, write blog posts, read, spend time with her children, and visit her father in the hospital. She even went to Italy with her daughter recently. Victoria regularly updates her blog with posts that chronicle her ups and downs, educate about the technical aspects of psychiatric disorders, and authentically present the feelings and side effects she experiences with her illness and different medications. She also provides some links to resources, including one to a book she wrote herself, titled My Personal Recovery from Schizophrenia .  

Listen to Victoria talk about some of her hobbies and interests in the interview here: 

Technology is a notable part of Victoria’s life, in part because of the flexibility it can provide for lifestyles that may require nontraditional work schedules. In addition to the internet serving as her blog platform, it also helps her connect with resources, which is becoming a common source of help and education for any individual struggling with mental illness or desiring to know more. Victoria believes that education in school should better address mental health and illness. She thinks when people know more, they may be less likely to stigmatize people with mental illness such as herself.  

In line with all of the specific ways Victoria tries to help others find fulfillment in their lives, her primary goal is to be a good person. Listen to Victoria’s message here: