Holly’s Resume Summary

I earned an Ohio Peer Specialist Certificate in Mental Health Recovery from The Ohio Empowerment Coalition, Inc. (OEC), in Columbus, Ohio.  There I completed basic training in mental health recovery model concepts and alcohol/other drug addictions, peer education, peer counseling and recovery coaching, advocacy, and physical wellness for work with mental health and/or addiction services clients.  In addition, I hold a BS degree in biology and completed extensive graduate education in medical sciences, being in the process of completing an MD degree which was interrupted by my personal health challenges. Along the way, I’ve taken courses in behavioral health, psychology and psychiatry and completed a practicum in psychiatry.  I’ve worked in the mental health field (in both a Mental Health Recovery Center run by and for clients and in a Community Mental Health Center) in the capacities of Recovery Specialist, Education Specialist and Peer Support Specialist.  Responsibilities have included promoting and inspiring recovery from mental illness for clients by personal example and as an educator, support group facilitator, peer counselor, advocate, community outreach worker and telephone warm line responder.  I have matched clients with adult volunteers in the community to foster supportive and mentoring friendships, engaging them in programs by regular face-to-face and telephone contact.  Scheduling social and recreational events, I have accompanied participants in community activities.  For the OEC and the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS), I have completed Ohio Peer Supporter Facilitator Training, and prepare future Ohio Peer Specialists/Supporters for work in the field.  Also, I am a certified lay educator/support group facilitator for fourteen different (state and national) series of classes designed to educate and support those working on recovery from mental illness as well as their families, friends and others in the community.  Being very active in the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), I have served on the local affiliate’s Board of Trustees, including work as an educator and support group facilitator.  I have been active as a public speaker, addressing mental health topics, including my personal story of recovery; my story has been published in both the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal (Boston University) and Voices of Recovery (Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Sue McNamara, Editor).  I have worked in the mental health field as a volunteer since 2002, and as an employee since 2005.  Awards for service have included the  county’s Mental Health Board’s “Faces of Recovery” for mental health education and advocacy, “Outstanding Board Member Service Award” for excellence in teaching and educational leadership for the county affiliate of NAMI, and “Trailblazer” for work on the design team and as the first President of the Board of Directors for the local Mental Health Recovery Center.

Mental Health Peer Support in Action

My name is Holly.

I have a greeting card ministry at my church where I send cards and letters to people who for different reasons aren’t able to attend church services on a regular basis.  We want them to know they are in our thoughts and prayers.  Someone at church gave me your name with the above address and asked me if I would contact you.  It was briefly mentioned that you are going through a bit of a struggle at the present time and might appreciate hearing from someone like myself who can empathize with you and share one-to-one thoughts and feelings you might be able to identify with as you work to regain your health.

I, myself, have experienced emotional highs and lows throughout my lifetime.

During times of depression, I have known what  it’s like to feel hopeless and helpless, as I lay in bed for days at a time, lacking the energy and willpower to even get out of bed and see to the activities of daily living.  For example, I have sometimes had difficulty seeing to personal hygiene needs. I’ve had appetite changes where I either didn’t feel like eating anything to the other extreme of wanting to eat everything in sight.  (Sometimes I think even wallpaper paste would have looked inviting—but this is an exaggeration, of course.)  If I tried to watch a television show, go to a movie, read a book, or do anything to get some relief from my emotional and mental anguish, I found I couldn’t concentrate or remember what was going on. Sometimes, I have known what it’s like to be pacing the floors, unable to find rest either lying down, sitting, or standing up moving about—such was my anxiety and unrest.  I have found myself ruminating, or going over and over in my mind people and events in my life that have caused me to experience hurt feelings, disappointment and discouragement.  I have known times of unemployment, when I simply couldn’t cope with the requirements and demands of holding any job, much less jobs I felt more qualified for and had prepared for through education and life experience.  Along with this came the difficulties of providing for myself, paying bills and living independently.  Finding no joy in anything in life, no pleasure at all especially in things I used to enjoy, feeling alone and isolated from people in general, including family, friends, co-workers and anyone else, I have experienced profound feelings of despair for my future and have bordered on wondering if life as I knew it was worth living.

I have also experienced times in my life when I have felt the extreme opposite.  I’ve felt unusually happy and optimistic, feeling no limits to my abilities and what I could accomplish.  I set unrealistic and superhuman goals for what I could accomplish on the job, in my church activities and in volunteer activities with which I became involved.  Going with little or no sleep for long periods of time—days, even—I found myself feeling “wired,” my word for uptight, nervous, jittery, on edge.  A couple of times, I spent relatively large amounts of money (even several thousand dollars) on things I didn’t need     which I later had to try and convince stores to allow me to return and issue refunds.  For example, I once was teaching preschoolers at a church and ordered for my classroom new carpeting, paint, tables and chairs, art supplies and books…all of which was not my responsibility to do and depleted money I had received as an inheritance from a family member.  I sometimes believed God had special tasks for me to accomplish that I had not prepared for academically or through life experience.  As examples, I believed He wanted me to be an inner-city missionary and at one time the national director of women’s ministries for a major church denomination.  I had become grandiose and expansive in my thinking.  I was delusional, holding beliefs that no amount of reasoning or advice from others who could see what was happening could persuade me were not realistic at the least, and downright harmful at the worst.  During these periods, I could become very irritable and difficult to deal with or be around.

During these times, I found myself blaming myself as well as others unrealistically for my moods and difficulties I encountered in life.  I had difficulty living with myself as well as family and friends who cared about me and prayed for me, wishing for the best and hoping for my peace and happiness as I went through periods of struggling and hardship.

And there were times when I could realistically say and confirm objectively that I was doing fine and things were looking well for me.

Through it all, and when I encounter such times still—I experience a setback or especially difficult period every seven to eight years or so, when I sometimes require hospitalization—I have learned there is always “a light at the end of every tunnel.”  I have learned resiliency.  Setbacks aren’t as severe and don’t last as long in large part because I’ve been there before and have always resurfaced and moved on.  I’ve included my resume summary only because I want you to see my progress in recovery from my psychiatric diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.  I have made a happy and fulfilling life for myself after struggling for many years (I just turned 60 years of age).  It was very, very difficult for a number of years as I availed myself of the assistance of family, friends, employers sometimes and mental health professionals who wanted me to make a good life for myself, with meaning, purpose and friends.  Since 2002, I have worked in the mental health field providing services to others on their recovery journeys.

And God has been with me through the good times and bad, sometimes when I wasn’t aware of it or didn’t believe it.  My faith sustains me.  At times when I couldn’t pray for myself, the Holy Spirit, family, friends, church members and some mental health professionals prayed for me.  When I sometimes found myself not attending church regularly, not reading the Bible, and not praying, the Holy Spirit would woo me back into relationship with God.  Now you might say I’m sometimes in the throws of mental illness and believe I actually literally hear the voice of God speaking.  No, this has never been the case.  Although there were people in the Bible to whom I believe God did speak audibly and there may be cases where people today, in very special special and exceptional circumstances, may have actually experienced this.  I have not personally met such a person and can not say if it is so, or not.  For me, God “speaks” to me through my meditations on the Bible and through the words and actions of other people.  In prayer I speak to God as my special friend and counselor.  Much like speaking to a mental health professional, especially a fellow Christian, talking to God is speaking with the ultimate psychiatrist.  He made me.  The Bible says he formed me when I was in the womb (Isaiah 44:24) and that the very hairs on my head are all numbered (Matthew 10:30).  He knows me like no other, including even myself.

I’ve shared enough of my story now, that I believe you can see I truly empathize with you in general, although not in every specific (we are all unique, having our own life experiences, thoughts and feelings).  No, I’ve not actually “walked a mile in your shoes,” but I do know the look and feel of similar shoes, through my own experience and the experiences of those I’ve worked with in my career and others I’ve met along the way in life.  There’s not a human being alive who hasn’t had ups and downs along the way.  It’s just that some of us have encountered curves on life’s journeys that others haven’t had to negotiate.

I don’t know how you’ll receive this letter.  You may consider it intrusive and unwelcome, no matter what my intent is in writing it.  Or you may find it a relief to know others can appreciate where you are in your life and care about you, even if it’s actually a stranger to you, such as myself.

Wishing you happiness and all the best,

Holly