Healthy Transitions: 'They didn't give up on me'

Healthy Transitions: 'They didn't give up on me'

Published 11/07/2019

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Joe Malaga embraces Erika Cannon, his therapist and Thrive Behavioral Health’s clinical supervisor, during an open house celebration at the organization’s headquarters on Post Road.


Warwick Beacon Editor’s note: Joe Malaga was one of two clients who shared their story of overcoming personnel challenges at the recent open house celebration of Thrive Behavioral Health with headquarters on Post Road in the Greenwood section of the city. His therapist and Thrive clinical supervisor Erika Cannon introduced Joe.

My name is Joe Malaga; I am the son of Rhonda and Joseph Malaga. My father was a 15-year veteran of the Warwick Police Department and on October 18, 1999 he took his own life. I was 7 years old at the time. In the years that followed my father’s suicide- friends, family members and the larger community all felt bad for me and tried to make things better by looking the other way when I made mistakes. As I grew older, my mistakes grew larger and the potential consequences more severe and still people looked the other way in an effort to ease by burden.

By the time I reached 18 I was ill prepared to be an adult and lacked effective skills to cope with everyday life. I turned to drugs and alcohol in increasing amounts and continued to display acts of destruction and aggression towards my family. This continued until July 7, 2015 when I experienced my first episode of auditory hallucinations and attempted to take my own life. This would become the first of three attempts on my life and the first of many involuntary in-patient hospitalizations.

Throughout this time, I was sent to various therapists and prescribed various medications. I always felt as though I was just a name on their schedule and a dollar in their pocket. I never felt as though they actually cared about me as most of our sessions were spent validating my BS or increasing the dose of my medication so that I would become more sedate and less volatile. This had a significantly negative impact on my overall well being as I increasingly gained weight and lost my energy and motivation to engage in life. I went from being a two-sport athlete, exercising daily to spending upwards of 14-16 hours in bed hating my life and not seeing any real potential for change.

In January of this year, my godfather was at a conference that Healthy Transitions was presenting at and he was able to get the contact info for Erika. An intake appointment was made with her and I didn’t show up. I figured that she was going to be like everyone else and I couldn’t be bothered. She apparently had other ideas as she relentlessly contacted my mother and godfather until the appointment was rescheduled.

At our very first appointment she commented on my current medication regime and suggested that I see the psychiatrist the following week to discuss reducing/eliminating some of the medications that I was on. This made me want to come back, even if it was just to get off of some of my meds because I knew that they were hurting me.

Needless to say, I continued to come back and in the days, weeks and months that followed my mood improved as I learned effective skills to manage my thoughts, feelings and behaviors. For years I had been told to take short cuts to get my needs met and this usually left me unfulfilled and lacking any sense of accomplishment.

This made therapy very challenging for me in the beginning because I lacked perseverance and tended to give up when I experienced discomfort. It wasn’t always easy, and on one or more occasions I fired Erika and yet she continued to show up. She wouldn’t give up on me and refused to let me give up on myself. She worked tirelessly not only with me but also with my family. She provided my mother and Scott with invaluable tools so that they were better prepared to support me and felt more confident in their role. This was critical for me because it provided everyone with a common language that left me feeling more supported and reassured.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of Healthy Transitions because they allowed me the time and space to create my own recovery. 8 months ago I could never have imagined that I would be asked to speak at this type event, highlighting the progress that I have made and yet here I am. I will not say that it has been an easy road and yet it has been worthwhile and likely saved my life.