My name is Sandra Cheng, I work as a peer specialist at Didi Hirsch, and I love cheese. My Taiwanese parents chose to come out to America for the love of cheese. My boyfriend hates cheese that smells like feet.
I had my first physical relationship when I was about thirty-five. He was the person who encouraged me to volunteer for Didi Hirsch. I helped people with the computers making resumes at the Employment services team. Sara, Khaki, Gary, Angela, Lanette, Herman. I was promoted by Michelle McBurnie and NAMI Urban LA after being a Jumpstart intern in 2009. It’s been my privilege to help my peers find their passions. I lead support groups, and I am still learning from everyone here.
Dark Days: I grew up in New Jersey, and I was uncomfortably shy as a teenager. When my environment changed, and we moved away from my new friends in high school, I decided to make as little contact as possible with pretty much every one. I had stopped talking to people including my family. I sat in front of the television with my cartoons Gummy bears. I loved sleeping and dreaming of flying. My love for lucid dreaming kept me going through some of my darkest days.
I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital twice when I couldn’t stop crying. The first time, I was put into a straight jacket. They were very polite about it, saying that everyone who comes here gets one, and they chose a pretty flower pattern jacket for me. I still hear voices when I’m stressed out, and at my worst I isolate. My first diagnosis was schizophrenia disorganized type. Abut two years later another diagnostic tested me with schizo-affective disorder. The labels don’t bother me. I am comfortable with being different. Words are just there to help people learn more about each other.
Acceptance: My work is important to me, but it has been a difficult path. I have learned to not take things personally. I accept that I hear voices and I am mindful about my own emotional health. I used to say I don’t care and tried to ignore my feelings. That used to be my way of trying to stay positive. I looked for reasons not to trust.
My family has supported my decision to continue taking medications, in spite of some early disagreements about it. I am lucky that they have been financially supportive of me through some of my hardest times. As a peer, my work is subsidized. The government helps me with maintaining my job. I can continue to work while receiving occupational and financial support with both disability (SSDI) and SSI.
Treatment: The mind is a magical thing. It needs a lot of care. My work allows me to learn how to recover and stay well. I create a supportive social environment by sharing ideas and linking people to healthy lifestyles working with the community.
I came out to Los Angeles in 2002 to pursue a career in animation, to draw cartoons. I link myself to my community, I engage myself in mental health services, and I set healthy boundaries with friends, family, and peers. People help me communicate what I usually struggle with.
I am the website manager for the LACCC, where peers work for DMH and share information about conferences, trainings, and other events. I am a facilitator for the Wildflowers’ Movement. We often use Dr. Weiss’s Healing the Mind and Spirit cards to share spiritual inspiration.
I chose stand up comedy and belly dance to help myself physically overcome shyness, gain intellectual and emotional confidence, and be better potty trained by focusing on my core.
I am a speaker for NAMI’s In our own Voice presentation. This is why I’ve been saying random words like “Dark Days,” “acceptance”, and “treatment”.
I make quilts with the wizened women of Quilts from the Heart. I foster hamsters for kids and the young at heart. I helped the National Asian American Peer support group speaking with their panel at the Alternatives conference. I sing with temple Akiba, now a synagogue, and the cal Phil where we will be performing at Disney hallike twice this summer. In August I will be at the Santa Barbara triathlon, as part of a coed sprint swim 500 yards, bike 6 miles, and run, 2 miles with my boyfriend, Ed. That’s why it’s coed.
Coping Skills: I am grateful for my famity putting up with my bologna. I am happy to be in a loving relationship with Ed. I am committed to making life both enjoyable and healthy. Coping with voices for me is getting why I feel like this and not how or what. I slow down, take risks, and have fun.
Successes, Hopes, and Dreams: I have a Master’s degree in Fine Arts, and I manage a small website company. As a peer advocate, I lead groups such as WHAM. It involves the 8 dimensions of wellness (F, O, Em, I, Sp, P, & En) and IMPACT goals for improvement and positive, calling healthy habits. I lead excerise, cooking, and creative expressions. No matter what group, I see each person, hear them out, and understand who they are.
I see people become mindful, people who share words that help others in groups. I help people find jobs and become supports to the community, learn resilience in difficult situations. I know how humbling it can be to get here and how difficult it is to ask for help. This is what makes this job important to me. The best part of this job is the culture. We care.
I am using the Plan to Achieve Self-Support, an incentive from the SSA to make my financial and educational goals attainable. I want to be more independent, and for me that means eventually making enough money on my own without relying on SSI and SSDI.
I dream of eventually moving to Paris, France. My boyfriend has rekindled in me a love for the arts and French culture where I will eat all the cheese.