Jeffrey Holland’s Story
The man sat on the curb of the sidewalk in the burning midday sun. His animated movements and the earnestness in his voice reflected the intense concern of his conversation. “But the sun’s rays always block the interstellar movements of the death gun!” he shouted. People walking by would glance and fixedly stare ahead as they hurried their steps. The man determinedly resumed his conversations after a brief silence. “Well you just don’t know how big the problem can be,” he stated to his phantom listener. As I waited on the city bus bench across the street, I studied the man’s disheveled appearance. A dirty backpack lay near him and I watched as he removed a crumpled bag of tobacco from one of its zippered pockets and started to roll a cigarette. As I watched the man I reflected on my own past.
I have lived a wandering existence leaving a trail of homeless shelters, emergency rooms, and mental health facilities. My experiences taught me to try to isolate myself as much as possible and to be wary of others. I detested having to take medication—seeing myself as weak by having to rely on chemicals to function normally. Having been on medications from A to Z, I have come to realize the importance of their use for mental illness. However, it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder four years ago and my involvement in local community mental health activities, that I realized the necessity of a group-based therapy and recovery program. I, like other consumers, often found myself helping in small ways in client-staff activities. I am grateful because through this process I developed a sense of empathy and understanding not only of my peers, but of some of the difficulties involved in client-staff interactions. I am sure that various staff members, who allowed me to help at times, knew very well the exciting transformation that takes place when individuals are motivated not by expectation but by the compassion and responsibility they begin to feel for others.
My local community mental health center offers a supportive education program sponsored by the University of Kansas. Part of this program was a student success class that prepares clients for a post secondary education. I had successfully attended college many years ago before the onset of my illness and lifestyle forced me to drop out. This class gave me the confidence I needed to return to college. Nervous and unsure when I started, I successfully completed the class in 2006. I have often wondered in my life how much not having a goal to work toward kept me in the bad stages of my illness.
Education in itself is a powerful motivator for me. I graduated from the Consumers as Providers program in December of 2007 and learned not only how to be an effective peer counselor, but to apply the information and training to my own recovery. In September of 2007, I enrolled as a full-time student at Friends University and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Organizational Management and Leadership last year. I am currently a student in their master’s program for Health Care Management. The workload and the goals that I have set for myself are difficult, if not impossible, without the support and encouragement that I receive from friends and organizations that I volunteer for. I have truly come to believe that individual recovery is enhanced and promoted through helping my peers. Although I have graduated from the program at my local community mental health center, I am a volunteer there helping others with their recovery. A local, state, and national organization has also accepted my services as a volunteer. I still struggle at times and my life has become more complicated. But I can feel a forward momentum through my recovery that I feel is strengthened by a sense of togetherness and a sincere belief in the recovery of others. I truly enjoy advocating on behalf of my peers and have written several letters of concern on several occasions to the local newspaper and the county commissioners regarding mental health issues.
As the bus rounded the corner, I exchanged a silent look with the man across the street. When the bus pulled away, I looked back at the man through the window, staring until the bus turned and he was lost from sight. I mouthed a silent prayer for those, for us, on the road to recovery.