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 (http://aliceshapiro.com), 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 Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and through local bookstores.
Thank you Alice, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Tamar Burris and Story of My Life®