Elisha White and Gregory Lindsay seem to have lived parallel lives.
Both are 24. Both used to live on the streets.
Both have been diagnosed with mental illness.
Both turned to alcohol and illicit drugs to soothe their symptoms.
And now, both are members of Oasis, a County-funded mental health clubhouse that is helping them stay sober and on the path to recovery. Such clubhouses are both sanctuaries and service providers for their members and visitors.
The understanding friends and treatment and jobs skills programs offered there have changed the lives of people who have struggled with their illness and related troubles for years, even decades. People like Elisha and Gregory.
How Elisha got to where she is today has been a long and tragic journey.
Ever since she was a child, Elisha knew she was mad and angry but she thought she was no different than other kids.
“I thought it happened to all kids,” said Elisha, who was raised by her grandmother in San Diego, but would go back to Tennessee to her father’s house during breaks or when she got in trouble in school. “All my emotions turned into anger. I got physical, really angry.”
Elisha was sent to therapy by her school. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, severe anger and severe depression. She was given medication but would not take it because as an adolescent she had discovered her own medicine.
“Cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, pills, uppers, downers,” Elisha said. “I was supposed to be on medication but I did not take it because it was ruining my high. I felt numb and did not have to deal with what was going on in my head.”
Her drug use, anger and physical aggression got so out of control, she got kicked out of six high schools and expelled from the entire San Diego Unified School District. Her heroin-addicted mother would not help her. Her siblings wanted nothing to do with her because they did not understand why Elisha would stick with her criminal and drug-addicted father.
“No one wanted to deal with my attitude or my drug use,” she said. “No one understood why I was so angry and I felt I could not tell anyone because I was embarrassed.”
For 12 years, Elisha kept a horrible secret. Since the age of 7, her father had been sexually abusing her during her visits.
Elisha ended up living on the streets at age of 19. It was in downtown San Diego where she first met Gregory, who was homeless because of his own battle with mental illness, drug addiction, and constant confrontations with the law.
Gregory’s troubles also started as a child in school. His father passed away at a young age, and he said he could not handle the teasing and “daddy jokes” from his classmates. Like Elisha, he also could not manage his anger and emotions.
“It would come out of nowhere, I could not control it,” said Gregory.
As a child, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity and was given medication for his disorder, but he hated it.
“I always saw myself as an outgoing person who was into sports and other activities,” Gregory said. “When I took the medication, I did not feel all the energy I had.”
Gregory was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, severe anger and severe depression. He was seeing a therapist but his anger and mood swings got so out of control, he was thrown out of therapy.
“I tossed his own chair at him,” said Gregory.
As a teenager, he also discovered drugs and turned to crystal, weed, cocaine, PCP, and alcohol.
His drug addiction got him kicked out of school. It also landed him on the streets, in the hospital, and in jail…21 times. Once, he got arrested for beating an undercover police officer. He was referred to drug treatment and mental health services on plenty of occasions, but never went. He did go to Oasis one time but left after one visit.
Gregory got in bigger trouble. He got arrested for selling drugs and was given probation. To get off it, he had to complete a drug treatment program and receive mental health therapy.
“I was such an alcoholic,” said Gregory, who lived on the streets from 13 to 21 years of age.
He returned to Oasis, where he reconnected with Elisha.
A home away from home
Located in Allied Gardens, Oasis is one of several mental health clubhouses funded by the County for teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 25. To join the clubhouses, members must be receiving mental health services.
At Oasis, members not only run the safe haven but also receive educational assistance, job training and development and peer mentoring and support. Oasis also teaches members independent living skills and offers volunteer and community service opportunities, as well as recovery groups, mental health support, and recreational activities. Oasis has nearly 400 members, but only about 25 to 40 members show up daily. The clubhouse is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“It’s a home away from home,” said Program Coordinator Tonya Jenkins. “It gives them a sense of belonging.”
A new life
Both Gregory and Elisha said Oasis has been a life saver. Both said they’ve learned the skills to control their anger and emotions.
“Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve become a cool mellow person,” said Gregory before challenging Elisha to a game of pool.
Gregory completed his drug treatment program and has been clean for six months. He is also no longer on probation and looking forward to getting his GED and attending culinary school. Now, he has a permanent place to live, is going on job interviews and is practicing his cooking skills making lunch for the clubhouse members every day the place is open.
“They helped me find the inner person that I had never seen before,” said Gregory, who is back on medication. “I am a new person. The anger does not control me, I control it.”
For her part, Elisha has been attending regular therapy sessions, is working at a facility for older adults with mental illness, and has her own apartment.
Her mental well-being, she said, is so much better she recently made the decision to get off her medication. Meditation, music, poetry and her job make her feel better and have helped her deal with difficult situations, such as the death of her mother and grandmother.
“I still have days when I don’t feel all there, but they’re not that bad,” said Elisha, who has been sober for two and a half years.
She also no longer blames herself for the years of mental and sexual abuse she endured from her father. He went to prison for life after his third strike and is now on death row for killing someone while in prison.
“He is a sick, manipulative person. Now I know what he did to me was wrong,” said Elisha, who now only goes to Oasis two times a week because of her job. “For a long time, I thought it was my fault. Not anymore.”
For more information about Oasis Clubhouse, visit www.kickstartsd.org or call (858) 300-0470.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a substance abuse problem or mental illness, call the County’s Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240.