Personal Stories

Finding My Dream Career After Hospitalization

by Dina Coughlan

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I have been told that my story is inspirational, but it has not always felt that way to me. My story, like many mental health journeys, has had its ups and downs.

When I was 19 years old, I had to drop out of college after a breakdown. I had always been an anxious and depressed child, and when I went off to college, I could no longer outrun my mental health issues.

Shortly after withdrawing from school, I was put into treatment at McLean Hospital in Belmont. I moved around to every residential program they had; eventually, practitioners told my parents that the hospital could no longer help me. Without other options, my parents placed me in a treatment program in Washington, Connecticut — another facility that was unable to help me.

At this point, I felt hopeless. I was experiencing suicidal thoughts and actively harming myself. I overdosed several times. It seemed as though I was “too much” for anyone to handle.

Finally, my parents found another option for me. I was placed in a treatment program in New York, where, slowly, I began to turn my life around. The facility had unorthodox approaches to mental health (full disclosure: it has since closed due to a class action suit), but I was lucky enough to work with a wonderful therapist. In addition to therapy, I was prescribed Clozaril — a “last resort” medication. The medication, however, saved my life.

Eventually, I was even able to return to school. I attended Westchester Community College, where I followed my passion and studied media. I continued to struggle with anxiety, but I dedicated myself to following my dreams. My persistence paid off; while in school, I landed an internship in New York City at the Rachael Ray Show. After graduating from Community College, with honors, I attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting and was certified in Broadcast journalism.

I have continued to face setbacks. I was hospitalized in 2014 — but I have not been hospitalized since. After leaving treatment, I moved back to Boston to finally finish my bachelor’s degree at Boston College. I even earned a scholarship from the Baer-Reintegration Organization, an organization dedicated to helping those with mental illness reintegrate society. In the last semester of school, I interned for WCVB Channel 5 in Boston, where I produced an episode on mental health with a focus in the urban community. This accomplishment allowed me to really feel some sense of closure and accomplishment.

I am pleased to say that I graduated from college in 2020 with the highest possible honors, earning a 3.83 GPA. I recently started a job as an associate producer for GBH News. I am not yet where I want to be, but I am so hopeful about my future — much more hopeful than I was just a few short years ago.

I know that I survived my experience for a purpose. I want to turn my pain around and use my experience to help others. I take the time to care for myself; I am actively in therapy, and I still take medications. These steps, paired with a wonderful doctor, have allowed me to live a life I am grateful for.

While I have navigated a series of ups and downs, and I understand that challenges lie ahead, I feel prepared to move forward with my life and career.