In spite of significant challenges, Trevor knew he could be and do more than he was in early 2015. And he was right.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy, but was—for the most part—raised as any other child would have been. That changed at seventeen years old when I was diagnosed with a serious, persistent mental illness.
It's very difficult to describe the effect that kind of event has on your life. It's a little like watching your dreams and future plans blown to pieces in front of you. The parts of what they were are still there, but they will never quite fit together properly again...and you are forever changed. That void is something I can never really describe to someone who hasn't had to fall into it.
Between my physical disability and my mental illness, I became very familiar with the system in place to assist those who were in such a position. I was successful in getting an education (a B.S. as well as a B.A.), but my symptoms kept me from working, and in the state system (while it was very well intentioned), I frequently met professionals who were not terribly enthused about me finding work or significantly improving my life.
By the time I had my symptoms under control, I had decided that I wasn't going to settle for a lifetime of state assistance and relative obscurity. The state has significant resources available to those in positions like mine who want to work, but it's still a system. This means that at the best of times, it's very business-like and at worst, often cold.
Before I found Circles, I was convinced that I was largely useless, and with due respect to some good people, I'd spent years surrounded by people who were in a state of hopelessness similar to my own. Circles and my Allies provided that sense of family and caring that was sorely lacking in the rest of my life. They and my Coach were able to be far more involved with the daily journey than state resources could.
The specifics of overcoming the limitations of my disabilities were still handled by state resources (benefits planning, transportation, aptitude testing, counseling, etc), but I was able to shine in Circles.
I had a family and friends that believed in me. Circles helped re-enforce the idea that I could have something better. I became a leader, and far more confident in my abilities because of that.
I won't lie. It was a LONG road, full of frustration, missed chances, mistakes, and often tears. It also included laughter, love, genuine acceptance, and ultimately...triumph.
I'm now employed full-time in a field that I've been working to get into for the last six years. I see the sun coming up after twenty years of grey. Circles was a huge part of that. I'll always be grateful for that.
How did you find Circles?
I started out as a volunteer at Circles in June or July of 2015. I had been looking for work for almost four years by this point and had become stressed out with that job hunt. I'd asked if my Vocational Rehabilitation counselor knew of any volunteer opportunities, and one of the staff members suggested that I become a childcare volunteer with Circles. We had a number of volunteers, so I was frequently left with nothing to do. I asked the Coach at the time if there was anything else I could help with, and she suggested I become an Ally. The problem was I didn't have a job myself, disqualifying me...The Circles staff were disappointed that I did not have the income to be an Ally, but then they said, “Wait a minute. Have him become a Circle Leader, this is what we do!”
You briefly talk about the state assistance having resources for you but it being business-like or cold. Can you share a little bit more about that experience?
When I say the system is cold, I'm referring to the fact that much of the disability services/mental health system has no focus on employment. In fact, I was actively discouraged from looking for work by my mental health team on the grounds that if I had an income I would lose my disability benefits. Vocational Rehabilitation actively encouraged me to work, and I'm a huge fan...but they have to remain professional and can only devote a limited amount of time to each client. The difference is that with Circles I had people who cared what I wanted and were available when I needed them. It also provided a sense of social interaction that I very much lacked, as well as a chance to prove to myself that I had more to offer than I thought.
What is your job?
I am a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor with Utah State Hospital. I got a part time job working as a Peer Support Specialist there in 2016. The hospital decided to hire in house for a VR Counselor position that opened up this last February. Ironically, it was my own VR counselor that suggested I might make a good one almost five years ago.
What’s next for you and Circles?
I intend to become an Ally myself. I see it as sort of "coming full circle," no pun intended. Additionally, I'm asked on a regular basis about resources for the disabled, and serve as a sort of "expert" on disability and employment. Note that this is mostly based on lived experience, not on professional certification (the distinction is important).