Getting Help at the Right Time Helped Me Stay in School, Become an Advocate for Others

Strong 365 founder Chantel Garrett talks with leadership board member and psychiatric nurse practitioner Tiffany Martinez about getting help, finishing her undergraduate degree, and finding the courage to share her story in support of others.

Chantel: When did you first begin to notice changes in your mental health?

Tiffany: I would say it started freshman year in college, soon after I moved and got settled in my dorm. I began to notice a decrease in the way I was able to function. I felt like it took me a lot longer to do things that usually came easy to me, particularly in my classwork. At the time, I had a roommate and a boyfriend, and I want to say that they — and my aunt back home — were also noticing things. 

I honestly can’t remember specifically what they would have said, but I know that it wasn’t just me noticing, it was others. Someone said, “You know, you should go to the counseling center.”

Chantel: So, is that what you did?

Tiffany: Yeah, that conversation prompted me to go to the clinic. It was actually in the same dorm as where I was living, which was so convenient. Counseling was familiar to me, so it wasn’t scary.

“I don’t know if I would have been able to reach out for that service if it were farther away.

Chantel: Even so, was getting help difficult?

Tiffany: Definitely. I don’t know if I would have been able to reach out for that service if it were farther away. I was away at school, in a different town, and I didn’t know any sort of local counselors, so I stuck with what was available within the university. Thankfully, I didn’t fall through the cracks.

Chantel: Was it really that easy for you?

Tiffany: It really was. When I look back, it was almost seamless, even with all of the anxiety and doubt I was experiencing. You know, when a social worker from the PIER program [Maine’s early psychosis program, one of the first in the U.S.] came to see me initially, they came straight over to the university dorm’s clinic where the counselor was. That was huge. 

Early on, the social worker, Sarah, would meet me at the campus or somewhere very closeby, because it was just so hard for me to go to foreign places. It was a very fortunate thing for me to have a social worker who would follow up with me where I was.

Chantel: That’s tremendous. Did you remain in the PIER program for some time?

Tiffany: Yes. I was in the PIER program for a total of four years. So, basically the entire time I was an undergraduate.

“PIER was incredibly helpful, whether it was writing letters or getting me set up with special accommodations.” 

Chantel: What role did the program play for you in being able to finish your studies?

Tiffany: Oh my goodness, it was everything. Huge. At one point, I had a meeting with my family and the PIER program because I was struggling so much. Finishing school was my biggest goal, but I remember my family saying, “Why don’t you just come back home and we’ll take care of you and then figure this out?” I had been very quiet in the meeting, but that made me speak up. I said, “No, I’m not going back home. I’m going to stay here, in school. We need to make this work.” 

That was so important for me. PIER was incredibly helpful, whether it was writing letters or getting me set up with special accommodations. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to continue school if it had not been for the PIER program.

Chantel: What was it like to tell other people — whether that was a professor or a friend or someone you were dating — about your experience? How did you talk about it?

“It’s really been a long road, but I found it to be healing over time to talk about it.”

Tiffany: While I was in the PIER program, I did not tell anybody. I kept it to myself for a very long time. I really didn’t even share it with close friends for the longest time. I didn’t want them to see me in a different way than how they knew me already. 

The conversations began when the PIER program started asking me to share my experience with others. To start talking about it was very uncomfortable at first. Early on, I would talk about my story, and it would choke me up and I would get tearful and — you know, very just emotional. It took me quite a few years before I became comfortable just bringing it up. 

It’s really been a long road, but I found it to be healing over time to talk about it. Hopefully, sharing will help others, which is the greatest thing.

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Tiffany Martinez lives in Maine and works as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Tiffany was fortunate to get effective treatment and support at an early psychosis program shortly after experiencing the first signs as a college freshman at the age of 17. In addition to her own personal experience, she has the perspective of a daughter of a father who lives with schizophrenia. Tiffany’s inspiring story has been featured in USA Today. Learn more about Tiffany’s experience with treatment and recovery.

At Strong 365, we believe that the strength to persist and thrive through a mental health challenge exists in all of us. Join our community on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter and keep the conversation going about how to live well with psychosis.

Want to share your story of strength? You can submit it here or email it to info@strong365.org.

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