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Be Careful What You Wish For 

Written by Storyteller: Tamar Burris   Comments: 8


Finding herself out of work after 12 long years at a secretarial position, Alice Shapiro had simply had enough. The unknown future swirled and leapt around her. What would she do? How would she make a living? As anxiety and stress continued to mount, Alice made a secret vow to God: no more job, unless it was creative. Unbeknownst to herself or anyone else at the time, Alice was sick with schizophrenia. Together, her illness and the little wish she’d just thrown out to the universe was about to make life very different for her.


Alice had always had lots of anxiety and a general sadness, even a vision or two. Now that the stress was rampant, however, her schizophrenia crept in and began to manifest strongly. For four years after being let go from her job Alice struggled along, unemployed and holding stubborn and strong to her irrational vow. She worked hard to hide the symptoms of her illness, faking sanity to the best of her ability. After running out of money, running up credit card debt, and selling her house, Alice was eventually rescued by her sister a few weeks before 9/11. Looking back now she says there were telltale signs. At the time, though, Alice’s sister didn’t realize how ill Alice was.


Although her sister tried desperately to influence Alice to get a job, she rejected the idea, promising herself she would never have another secretarial job she hated. Although it may have been irrational, the thought reflected a lifelong passion to live a more creative life, something Alice was fighting to finally achieve with her vow. This fight was made difficult with a broken mind. How do you follow a passionate dream with a jumbled, fearful mind? Rejecting the practical idea of staying put and getting a job like her sister had hoped, Alice set out for the U.S. Virgin Islands. The destination was unreasonably exotic for an impoverished, mentally ill woman. With her eyes fixated on something more magical than mundane, Alice wound up in Florida and quickly ran out of money.



“Alice was fighting to finally achieve with her vow. This fight was made difficult with a broken mind. How do you follow a passionate dream with a jumbled, fearful mind?”



Alice didn’t know a soul in Florida and, while she wouldn’t admit it, her mind was unstable. Without family, money, or prospects she ended up at the Salvation Army, where she stayed for a year. All residents of the Salvation Army had to make efforts, so Alice worked in a clothing warehouse and took interior design classes. But between school and work her stress levels elevated to such an extreme height that she just couldn’t take it anymore. She had to quit both school and job. Still, she refused to believe she was sick. Afraid of the possibility of shock treatments or institutionalization or both, she turned down psychiatric help. Truly believing there was nothing wrong with her mind, she returned to her wishful, irrational vow: no more job, unless it is creative.


About a year after moving into the Salvation Army, Alice left to live in an apartment with an elderly male employee who offered her free accommodations. However, only a short time had passed before Alice realized the arrangement wouldn’t work out. When he turned out to be somewhat strange, she found herself at a second shelter. But this one was a little different and Alice finally allowed herself to open up to help. A very wise, compassionate psychologist became the first person Alice had trusted since having become homeless. After convincing Alice that some medication would help with the anger issues she’d developed, the doctor tried her on two different drugs, both to no avail due to negative side effects.  However, with the third try they landed on a new “designer” drug that did the trick. At last, Alice was breaking through the fog. The anger subsided, the visions lessened, and the fear dissolved. Alice continued taking the medication and her symptoms continued to abate. But, it was an uphill climb.


Although she’d never liked to cook, Alice loved to eat! Throughout the years she’d followed all kinds of food fads—from vegetarianism, to mega vitamins and juicing regimes—eating at all kinds of organic and not-so-organic restaurants along the way. No matter what, she’d always eaten what she wanted, when she wanted it. Living in homeless shelters, Alice’s food choices and eating options had diminished greatly. With the exception of festive barbecues and holiday meals, there was lots of pork, overcooked vegetables, white bread, soda, and cake. For a picky eater concerned with healthy eating, the lifestyle had presented a big change. So, to meet the challenge, Alice collected food research and wrote copious notes about food trivia. It was a survival technique, allowing Alice to vicariously enjoy the concept of food while living and eating in the shelters.


For two long years, Alice had been alone. After moving to her third shelter, a facility for 55 year olds, her emotional state was beginning to improve considerably. Food options had expanded. She had more freedom and more mental clarity. She was able to reach out and reconnect with her family, who were over the moon to hear from her. Despite this, she wasn’t ready to come home. It seemed there was still work to be done—there was still that vow to fulfill: no more job, unless it is creative. It was a wish the universe had every intention of seeing through to the end.


In her third shelter, there had been computers for residents to use to search for jobs online. While online one day, Alice found a literary agency accepting manuscripts. Taking her food research to the next level, she decided to publish a book. Using the microwave at the facility where she now lived, Alice started hosting a cooking class for other residents. She also spent time converting her notes into a manuscript. Called A South Florida Culinary Adventure, Alice’s book was eventually published through a joint venture publishing house in July 2008. By the time she’d sent in her manuscript, Alice had applied for and begun receiving Social Security for her illness. With these funds, she was able to move back to Georgia to be near her family and could begin paying off her credit cards in small amounts agreed to by creditors.


When her book finally came out she was thrilled to be a published author! But it had cost a lot of money to publish through a joint venture, and sales were minimal. With her clear head and family support, Alice decided to stop trying to promote her book. She returned to what she had loved most as a child—poetry writing. Surprised, Alice learned that traditional publishing would not be impossible for a poet like herself; better yet, it wouldn’t cost her a cent. Alice’s first book of poetry, Cracked: Timeless Topics of Nature, Courage and Endurance, was published to rave reviews in May 2009. It was graced with a preface written by Suffolk, L.I. Poet Laureate Dr. David B. Axelrod who called the poems "Gorgeous!" Alice’s second book of poetry is due out in April of next year.


Alice now spends her time marketing her book, writing poetry, working on her blog/web site (, where in addition to her own work and musings on poetry she also hosts a Children’s Poetry page that features poems by homeless and abused teens), and basically living a writer’s lifestyle in a beautiful suburban setting near her family. It is the fulfillment of a childhood dream—and the fulfillment of a vow she took in 1997: No more job, unless it is creative.


Still under doctor supervision, Alice has been off her psych meds since November 2008. All her psychiatrist can say about her is she seems to be cured of schizophrenia and that “It happens.” In addition to the other lessons life has taught her, Alice has now learned to be careful what she wishes for because it, too, might just happen! Cracked: Timeless Topics of Nature, Courage and Endurance is available at, Barnes&, and through local bookstores.

Thank you Alice, for sharing your Story with us.


Our Stories and pictures are the sole copyright of their Authors and may not be reprinted or used without their permission.
© 2009 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life®



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Member Since
Jul 2009
Alice Shapiro said:
posted on Jul 03, 2009

Thanks, Tamar, for doing such an excellent job with my story.

Member Since
Sep 2008
Tamar Burris said:
posted on Jul 03, 2009

Thank YOU Alice! Your story was fun to hear and fun to write about. Love it when that happens... :)

Member Since
Aug 2007
Agnes Williams said:
posted on Jul 03, 2009

What a moving and powerful story, and you are a courageous woman for sharing that, and for that I thank you. I had a friend whose daughter had a lot of mental issues and back then no one really knew what it meant or what to do. The doctors wanted to give her electro shock therapy (I realize I'm dating myself here). They didn't know what to do. They ended up locking her away because she was constantly getting hurt when she would wander off. The pain the family went through - is also clear in your story. I am SO glad that you found someone to reach through to the murkiness and that you are such a strong and vibrant woman today. And your poetry is beautiful. 

Member Since
Aug 2007
Gina Pertonelli said:
posted on Jul 06, 2009

That's an amazing story. I am so sorry for all the pain you've gone through. My mother was very disturbed and did not trust doctors enough to work with them through her problems. She never did get help and I missed seeing the "real" her through the stuff that "wasn't her" if you know what I mean.

Member Since
Aug 2007
Archibald Sharron said:
posted on Jul 06, 2009

What a wonderfully uplifting story. I, however, must say that i feel so bad that you had to wait that long to have that fog lifted. My son too has had his share of problems and the medicines are always problematic.

Thank you very kindly for sharing this story.
With regards,
Archibald Sharron

Member Since
Jan 2009
Dale Hannity said:
posted on Jul 08, 2009

What a remarkable and uplifting story this is. On one hand, I'm sorry for all the "lost" years that you had. On the other, much of what you went through is probably more than likely a driver for you on your current day. Thank you for a brave and honest story.

Member Since
Jul 2009
Lisa Waite said:
posted on Jul 20, 2009

This story is heartwarming AND heartbreaking. But so glad to have you among us Alice.

Member Since
Jul 2009
Alice Shapiro said:
posted on Jul 21, 2009

Thank you for your kind comments Lisa, Dale, Archibald, Gina and Agnes.  So many great stories here.