Mental Illness Awareness Week: Jerry’s Story

For Mental Illness Awareness Week, we are highlighting members of Thresholds’ Peer Success program. In this program, staff who are in mental health recovery provide services and outreach to Thresholds members. Their first-hand experience with the same struggles our members are going through helps them build stronger social bonds and offer more effective service to our clients. This story is from Jerry, a long-time member of the Peer Success team.

I have been in relatively successful dual recovery (recovery from a simultaneous mental illness and substance use disorder) for 18 years. Before that, I lived with untreated Bipolar Disorder and a substance use disorder, and was increasingly unable to live a full life.

I received some tough love from my best friend Michele. She convinced me to visit an emergency room and ask for help, despite my lack of health insurance. At Chicago Read, I began taking medication for the first time, attended therapy groups, and started learning about recovery. My depression began to improve, and I realized that sobriety was necessary to really recover. I have been sober ever since, with no relapses.

Upon discharge, I was referred to a pair of residential programs located at Lawson House YMCA. I spent 6 years living there. At first, I had no idea what to do with my new life in dual recovery. The mental health care workers I had interacted with, however, gave me the idea to start doing this kind of work myself.

I enrolled in a Psych Rehab Certificate Program (PRCP) at Wright College, and wound up meeting with Lena, a Thresholds staff member who was volunteering with the PRCP course. Lena told me of her dream of opening a drop-in center for people in recovery from mental illness and substance disorders. She said if the idea got off the ground, she would hire me as her dual recovery specialist. I was flattered and filed that thought away.

Sure enough, a year and a half later Lena called to report that her dream was a reality. Lena asked if I would still come work for her and I agreed. Still in school, I began working 13 hours a week when the Thresholds Peer Success opened on Dec. 2, 2004, and after five years became a full-time employee. I have been working for Lena ever since, first with the Thresholds Peer Success program and then at New Freedom Center Central.

I am still occasionally troubled with depressive symptoms, but I now have good coping skills and a job that surrounds me with recovery 5 days a week. I had some great times during my addictions and periods of untreated mania, but my 18 years of illness management and sobriety are by far the best years of my life.

I am 71 years old and I could retire tomorrow but I am not yet ready. After so many years without treatment, I feel I owe it to myself and to the universe to be productive for as long as possible and help as many of my peers as I can.

elliot besmann
Author: elliot besmann

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