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Mental Illness and Hope: Encounters With Courage

Last Thursday, I was invited to read from Ben Behind His Voices to the members and staff at Laurel House in Stamford, CT. Laurel House is based on the  “Clubhouse” Model, offering programs, services, and a community to people diagnosed with a mental illness.  Tonight, Laurel House will sponsor the public Book Launch Event, and we hope to raise awareness and funds for the wonderful work that goes on there.

What do they do? from the home page of their website:

Recovery…

the regaining of or the possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.

Laurel House is a “for impact” organization that creates opportunities for people with serious mental illness to work, attend school, have a place to live and experience improved health and an overall better quality of life. It is also a place where recovery begins.

Since 1984, Laurel House has operated in Stamford, Connecticut, using a self-help approach known as the “Clubhouse” model. This is a holistic, community-based approach, which focuses on the individual strengths of people with serious mental illness to lead productive, meaningful and rewarding lives in the community.

I arrived at 11 am, and was greeted by the public relations team at Laurel House, consisting of both staff and members.  One young woman shook my hand firmly and cheerfully and said, “I’m so glad to finally meet you! I have paranoid schizophrenia and I’m not ashamed to say it. I also want you to know that while I love my therapists and psychiatrists, I would not be here without the love and support of my family.”

Laurel House Members

Laurel House Members

Meeting People with Mental Illness and Amazing Courage

Wow. And hello to you too! I find myself wishing my Ben could meet this young woman. Maybe someday he will. Laurel House is full of wonderful members. At the book-reading, they paid rapt attention to the passages, and asked thoughtful questions and reactions. When one member shared her hope that her mother might “understand me better if she reads your book”, another offered this: “Not all of us have family on our side, but this place has become my family and I’m grateful.”

The more I travel to various groups to share the message of my book, the more I meet people with more courage than I have ever seen.  In this video clip, News 12 captures one such member, and shares a taste of the event:

This courage is everywhere. I recently talked with Kate, who wanted information on Voiceovers as a career because she needs to consider a new fact in her life: side-effects from past treatment for depression has left her with a permanent head tremor. Turns out, she’s a blogger about her positive attitude at Shaken, Not Stirred. I told her about the mental health bloggers at HealthyPlace, and she was delighted to find more community.

And then there’s my son Ben, who shocked me last night by announcing that he wanted to go to the official book launch party tonight and hear me read from my book.  I have left this entirely up to him, aware of the discomfort it might cause him to be there. Ben supported my writing the memoir, as long as I changed his name and was clear that the memories are mine and not his.  There will be friends there tonight who will know who he is, that he is “alias Ben” — and strangers who will not know. Why does he want to come? “I want to support you, Mom,” he says.  And I believe him. And, of course, there is free food! Still, I would have bet money that he’d have chosen to stay home and avoid the discomfort. Go figure.

Yes, courage everywhere.  I am constantly awed.

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3 Responses to Mental Illness and Hope: Encounters With Courage

  1. Alistair McHarg says:

    Congratulations on your outreach work. I often think that meeting wonderful people and understanding how you have touched their lives is the biggest fringe benefit of doing what we do. I’ve been lecturing on bipolar disorder for many years and the experience is always very humbling. I had a friend who taught creative writing at a local university. She had her class read Invisible Driving, my bipolar memoir, and then I came in and spoke about the literary and emotional challenges of writing a memoir. When I was done, one of the students revealed that reading the book gave her the courage to tell her family she was bipolar. It was so powerful. She was crying, before long I was crying too. I looked at her and said, “You are the reason I wrote the book.” – I used to believe that art validated ego; in time I came to understand that art is all about service. – Keep up the good work.

  2. Kate K says:

    My new book on the effects of cannabis use on people with a mental illness is a great resource for family members. It explains a lot of the dynamics between addiction and mental illness and gives family members an insight into both the path of addiction and the disease process, and the miracle of recovery. “Matters To A Head: Cannabis, Mental Illness & Recovery” by Kate K is available through the Amazon Kindle store, or through http://www.matterstoahead.co.nz

  3. Randye Kaye says:

    Thanks Alistair. Yes, when we write a memoir it isn’t really for us to “vent.” People always ask me if it was cathartic to write “Ben Behind His Voices.” No. It wasn’t. I has already felt those feelings – over and over. Putting the story on paper, in sequence, accompanied by the lessons we learned (and are learning) from the experience? My motivation for that was to share reality, hope, and understanding to others who might benefit. I wrote it for people like the girl you mentioned – for whatever good it might do. I am constantly amazed, and humbled, by others’ reactions to our story. I love your comment about art – couldn’t agree more!
    thanks
    Randye

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