I remember it as if it were yesterday—returning home from active duty in the United States Navy, the second my foot hit the tarmac at Greensboro International Airport, I became anxious and mildly depressed, which remained and from time to time got worse, not better, until I was 55 and my psychiatrist asked, “Would you like to try an experiment?” At that point in my life it wouldn’t have mattered, and so I replied, “Yes.” He prescribed five medications at low doses. After a year of tweaking the doses, my anxiety and mood swings were gone, and I’d never felt as consistently good in my life.
Most people with a mental illness are embarrassed to brag on themselves. I used to be ashamed of saying, “I’m a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War.” And I’m not anymore. When I tell somebody that, and that I have bipolar, they really appreciate that. They grab that with gusto.
It’s important that people see people with a mental illness, that we’re regular kind of people. That it’s not what you see on the news or at the movies or on TV.
One Sunday, I had left church, and I was going to eat out at Brier Creek, and lo and behold, there were all these cars. And I thought, “Gosh, what’s this?” I saw it was some kind of walk, so I pulled over and walked up there and asked if I could sign up. And so I walked. I’m not even sure I had tennis shoes on! And then I just got more involved.
Since 1996, I’ve facilitated support groups for families who have a member with a mental illness and support groups for people with a severe mental illness. Since 2010 I’ve been a volunteer for the Foundation of Hope and feel most honored to have been one of their Volunteers of the Year. My career was primarily in private corporations, but I never witnessed the highest level of dedication, commitment and passion for work until I came to the Foundation of Hope.