Woman turns survival story into way to help others

At times, Melody Favor felt bulletproof. Like Superwoman, she says. Invincible. Then, everything would change. Her life would become almost unbearable.

"And a lot times, all I could say was, 'I wish I was dead,'" Favor remembers.

At 56, Favor is now a peer-to-peer counselor at Northside Mental Health Center, and a survivor, she says, of decades of the incredible highs and lows that comes with bipolar disorder.

A businesswoman and a mother, she says, she found herself reliving the same pattern. Things would go well. She'd feel like she was on top of the world. Then, the anxiety would set in and everything would come undone.

Favor says for years her depressive episodes were so painful, she'd do anything to escape them..

"A lot of times, it would lead to drinking, alcohol," she says. "A lot of times, it would lead to drugs. It was cocaine and then it changed over to free-basing, and then it changed over to crack."

Favor, once an up-and-coming young loan officer, says hit bottom in 2000.

At 40, she found herself in Grady's emergency department. She was diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and a substance abuse disorder. Finally, she says, she had a name for what she was feeling.

"So the best thing that could happen was I get the diagnosis," she says. "Then, I found out it was treatable."

Stabilized at an Atlanta mental health hospital, Favor says, she started taking medication to ease her mood swings.

"I had to experiment through several medications to find the one that works," she says.

But, getting healthy wasn't easy.

In 2010, after a decade of stability, Favor found herself back in Grady's emergency department.

This time she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, in addition to bipolar disorder.

A staffer helped her find a place at a hospital that specializes in mental health.

"They kept me for two weeks," Favor says. "They treated me with medication, and when they got me to a balance, but when they got ready to release me, I still realized I was homeless. I have family in the city of Atlanta, but they couldn't handle my condition."

Favor got help from local programs. She found an apartment, qualified for disability and even went back and earned a college degree.

In 2013, headed back to Grady for a support group meeting, she met a stranger, Charles Willis.

He told her he was a certified peer specialist. She asked him what that meant.

"He said, 'I have a diagnosis of mental illness, and I used to have substance abuse,'" she remembers. "He said, 'Now I help other people like myself.' I said, 'Crazy people?' And he said, 'We don't call them crazy people!'"

Willis explained that peers helped other peers transition into long term recovery. Intrigued, Favor signed up for training to become a peer to peer specialist. The process, she says, changed her life.

Favor is now a survivor, using her own story to help others face theirs.

It feels like a gift, she says.

"Being able to stand in front of other people and share a message of hope," she says.