When the unexpected happens……

Yesterday, as I planned to write my first blog ever, I had a title “How to Keep your Cool in the Summer Heat” and I had notes about the pros and cons of summer. I had read and downloaded facts and figures about mental wellness and summer time heat. All very practical information, but anyone could have easily pieced together that blog. Instead I want to share with you when the unexpected happens in life. I arrived early for our Tuesday night Road to Recovery support group at the First Lutheran on Friendly Avenue. I set the chairs up in a circle and got out our tri-fold board of information. I had the sign in sheet ready to go. I glanced into the parking lot and my car was the only car in the parking lot. I sat there in the circle of chairs alone. I started to think…. what if no one comes……what does that say about me….. would I sit there by myself from 7:00 until 8:30???? To my relief slowly but surely people arrive. The room was full of chatter and everyone was settling into their seats, when the unexpected happened….people jumped up from their chairs and there were squeals of excitement. I turned to see a friendly face, one I had not seen for many weeks. Sue (name has been changed to protect group members identity) once a regular attendee was back! The reason Sue had been away is a story too long to tell in this blog but it also doesn’t really matter.

The group embraced her psychically and emotionally. We settled back into our seats and started group as we do every week. We did an ice breaker, introduced ourselves and went over the guidelines for group. As we opened up for sharing time, people shared how their week was going. People shared about improved relationships with family and changes in relationships with professionals (ie…new psychiatrist  or therapist). Some shared sad news about the illness of a beloved pet or a disappointment they had experienced last week. But as each person spoke, they all took a moment to tell Sue how much her being a member of the group meant to each of them over the years. They shared stories of the impact Sue had made in each of their lives individually. Sue is the type of person who takes the time to connect with each person. Her calm spirit is reassuring. Two recovery tools Sue had brought to the group over the years had been the use of inspirational quotes and the practice of taking a moment at the end of each group to say one thing that we are grateful for in life. Sue has the lovely ability of keeping the group grounded.

As our time together came to an end last night, there was not a dry eye in the place. The room was filled with unconditional love and acceptance. What brings us together at the Tuesday night Road to Recovery support group is the common bond of having a mental health diagnosis but what keeps us coming back is something so special I can’t find the words to describe it. I wish everyone a week of wellness!


Coping With Loss – In Memory of Mary Seymour

colorful-mosaic-darren-lewisThere’s a beautiful poem written by Mary Elizabeth Frye in 1932. Many people heard this poem for the first time about twenty years ago, when the father of a dead soldier read it aloud on the BBC, having found it in his son’s personal items in an envelope labeled, “To All My Loved Ones.” Here are the words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Grief is Natural

In the course of our lives, loss is inevitable. Loss may be profound, such as the death of a loved one, or it may be passing, such as forgetting the name of a friend in an old photograph. We all experience losing something or someone at some point. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss.[1] You may experience grief briefly or for an extended period of time.mosaic-butterfly-cloud

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced in 1969 what became known as the “five stages of grief,” (including: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness. Not everyone experiences all of these stages. The phases don’t necessarily happen in sequence. In her last book before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross said: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Yet familiarity with these stages of grief may help you on your journey to recovery. As you are grieving, you may ask yourself, “how can this important part of my life be gone?” You will need to find ways to move on without this person in your life.

Strategies for Dealing with Loss

Here is a list of strategies that can help during the grieving process.

  • Accept your feelings: grief can bring up all kinds of unexpected emotions. You may feel angry, hurt, guilty, sad, or any number of other emotions. Please know that this is totally normal. Understanding that your life has been changed in some way that is beyond your control is inherently challenging. Acknowledging and allowing yourself to feel these unpleasant emotions can help you move through the grieving process. There is no normal timetable for grieving.[2]
  • Reach out: You may find it helpful to talk to someone else who is grieving the same loss or someone who has experienced a similar loss. Talking to your friends and family members can also be a source of comfort. If you are a religious person, it could be helpful to reach out to someone in your faith. Additionally, you may want to speak with a counselor, especially one who specializes in grief counseling.
  • Remember your loved one: Try to remember all of the good times you had with your loved one. You may want to frame a picture of him or her, or just take a few minutes each day to recall a fond memory. Keeping a journal can help you through this process. One that has been meaningful personally is “Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and Remembrance,” by Kathy Eldon and Amy Eldon Turteltaub.[3] Having a special way of recording your feelings and thoughts can be healing.
  • Take care of yourself: Grief can make us forget to attend to our physical needs as well as our mental needs. Make sure that you don’t neglect the things you would normally do to keep your body feeling great, like eating well and exercising.

The Loss of a Colleague

Most of the time, when we talk about loss and grief, it is in the context of the death of a family member or friend. It is important to remember, however, that the loss of someone you know in a professional context can also be extremely challenging. Those we know through a professional context can become friends, and evmosaic-butterfly-glassshacken if the relationship is strictly professional, the loss of anyone who played a role in your life can cause feelings of grief. This is especially true if the loss was very sudden.

Grief and Pre-Existing Mental Illness

While dealing with the loss of a loved one is difficult for anyone, it can be especially hard on those with mental health conditions. Grief is distinct from clinical depression; however, grief can trigger a worsening or re-emergence of symptoms. It can also cause feelings of grief about a past loss to resurface. This is especially common if you have lost someone very close to you in the past, or if you did not fully work through your feelings of grief about the past loss. If you have a mental illness, and you experience a loss, it is important to keep in mind that the grieving process may be more difficult for you to navigate on your own. If you find yourself struggling to handle your feelings, or if you think grief may be worsening your pre-existing mental health conditions, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. You may want to seek counseling or a support group.

Please know that the Mental Health Association in Greensboro offers peer-based supportive services ranging from classes to support groups. We are here for you.

[1] http://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief-loss/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm

[2] http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/grief.aspx

[3] http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/angel-catcher-amy-eldon-turteltaub/1102170945?ean=9780811861724

Singing the Holiday Blues

According to the song “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the winter holidays are the hap-happiest season of all, with parties for hosting and much mistletoeing and hearts glowing while loved ones are near.


Not everyone sees the Christmas season as hap-happy. For many, it’s a painful and difficult time of the year, bringing up thoughts of fractured families, memories of lost loved ones, and feelings of loneliness while everyone else seems to have someplace to be and someone to be with. The pressure to buy gifts adds financial stress; those who can’t afford to shower their loved ones with the latest toys and gadgets may feel guilt and shame, while those who do buy worry about the mounting bills. And there’s pressure to do, do, do without stopping, from shopping to cooking to attending parties to delivering cheerful holiday greetings to all and sundry.


On top of that, the days are shortest during this time of year, with darkness falling on the heels of late afternoon. Lack of sunlight can bring feelings of gloom and depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder.


The malaise that sets in during this time of year is called holiday blues. Symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, uneasiness, anxiety, sadness, intestinal problems, and unnecessary conflict with family and friends.

How can you manage the holiday blues? First of all, remember it’s okay to feel blue sometimes. A state of constant happiness—the kind promoted by holiday season retailers—is impossible to maintain. Our feelings inevitably rise and fall over the course of days and weeks. But if your feelings are falling more than rising, you might consider using one or more of the following tools:

  • Keep a reasonable schedule. Don’t overschedule yourself so that you wind up feeling stressed and irritable.
  • Remember that the holidays do not automatically take away feelings of aloneness, sadness, frustration, anger, and fear.
  • Try to put aside resentments related to past holidays. Declare a truce with any family members or friends you have had conflict with.
  • Understand that the holidays will be different from when you were a child. You are not the same person now, nor are your family members.
  • If you have unpleasant memories of past holidays, remind yourself that the past does not predict the future. You have control over how your holiday unfolds. Do the things you enjoy and let go of old, negative holiday memories.
  • If you’re feeling underscheduled for the holidays, look for volunteer opportunities like serving holiday dinner at a homeless center or visiting hospitalized children. There are always opportunities for community service, and helping others can go a long way toward relieving holiday blues.
  • Alcohol tends to flow freely during the holidays. Avoid excessive drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and will only increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
  • Create time for yourself to do the things you need to do for your physical and mental wellness, whether it’s walking, spending time with a pet, or engaging in spiritual practice.
  • Spend time with supportive and caring people. Reach out and make new friends, or connect with someone you haven’t heard from in while.

Most of all, remember that the holiday season doesn’t last forever. Before you know it, life will be back to a more regular routine, the holiday hullabaloo will die down, and you won’t feel pressured to have the hap-happiest time of your life. You can just live your life, one day at a time, knowing that daylight hours are lengthening and spring is on its way.


Journey to a New Home

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, according to Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. In the case of the Mental Health Association in Greensboro, the journey to our new home began with about a thousand steps between our former office space at the Community Foundation building and our new digs at the Dorothy Bardolph Center at 301 East Washington St.


We’ve been ready for a change for while. Yes, the Community Foundation building was home for ten years, but it was in a basement (in realtor parlance, “garden level”), the carpets were stained, space was tight, it was off the beaten track, and the air was, well, damp.

When we learned that space was available at the Bardolph Center, we couldn’t think of a better place to move. The center was constructed expressly to house social service agencies. Its residents include Senior Resources, Alcohol and Drug Services, and Youth Focus. Quality folks, all. MHAG’s own mission of educating the community about mental health recovery and teaching people to manage their mental health challenges is right in line with the center’s heartfelt mission.

It took three weeks, a redesign of the new space, intensive painting, dedicated volunteers, three truckloads of stuff, and a whole lot of organizing, but MHAG moved lock, stock, and barrel into the Bardolph building between November 10 and 24. The move was not without its glitches (try three weeks without Internet or phone service!).

Office manager Jennifer McKeon greets visitors and takes calls
Office Manager Jennifer McKeon greets visitors and takes calls
Browsing the many brochures related to mental health
Browsing the many brochures related to mental health

Susan Ball, executive director of MHAG, is thrilled with the new place. “It’s bright and airy and more accessible,” she says. “Because we’re right by the Depot, transportation isn’t such an issue. People can get to us easily.”

Executive director Susan Ball loves the "airiness" of the new space
Executive Director Susan Ball loves the airiness of the new space

The biggest challenge now is letting people know that the Mental Health Association in Greensboro has moved. The office is in the back of the Dorothy Bardolph building, not exactly marked by blinking neon signs. But the sign on the door says it all:


Welcome, and come in!
Welcome, and come in!

MHAG staff are thrilled with their new environment. Their expressions provide the proof.

Murphy Sullivan, director of recovery initiatives
Murphy Sullivan, Associate Director
Christa Whitesell, director of aupport services, loves her light-filled office
Christa Whitesell, Director of Support Services, loves her light-filled office
Director of programs Myla Erwin in her new space
Director of Programs Myla Erwin in her new space
Accounting manager Jan Cooke enjoys her new office
Accounting Manager Jan Cooke crunches numbers in her office

Clients get to enjoy some pretty splendid benefits as well. The classroom, used for art, writing, cooking, wellness skills, and much more, is open and inviting.

The bright, light classroom
The bright, light classroom

For peer support sessions–one-on-one meetings between peers who have traveled their own recovery path, and individuals still struggling to find their way–an intimate room provides comfort and warmth.

A cozy office for peer support sessions
A cozy office for peer support sessions

Please stop by to see our hard work, to share our beautiful setting, and to take the first step in that thousand-mile journey.

MHAG office hours are Mon-Thurs 8:30-4:30; Fri 8:30-2:30. For more information, call 336.373.1402 or e-mail info@mhag.org.


“Rocks in my Pockets”

Rocks in my PocketsWe had an exclusive Greensboro showing of New York Times Critic’s Pick, Winner of the International Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize and Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Award, ROCKS IN MY POCKETS, which we brought on Wednesday, October 22, 2014 to the Carousel Cinemas-Battleground at 7:00pm.

In the new animated gem ROCKS IN MY POCKETS, Latvian-born artist and filmmaker Signe Baumane tells five fantastical tales based on the courageous women in her family and their battles with madness. With boundless imagination and a twisted sense of humor, she has created daring stories of art, romance, marriage, nature, business, and Eastern European upheaval—all in the fight for her own sanity.

Employing a unique, beautifully textured combination of papier-mâché stop-motion andJealousy_Sc_005_vs_1_and vs_2_Small classic hand-drawn animation (with inspiration from Jan Svankmajer and Bill Plympton), Baumane has produced a poignant and often hilarious tale of mystery, mental health, redemption and survival.

ROCKS IN MY POCKETS was sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Greensboro and NAMI Guilford for Mental Illness Awareness Month. We were fortunate to have Signe Baumane, the filmmaker, introduce the film and answer questions at the end.

Signe asked a few trivia questions about her movie and generously gave out some papier-mâché rocks and drawings from her collection as prizes. She also welcomed questions from the audience, no matter how personal, and astounded us by being genuine, direct and blunt about her own struggles. Signe_Sc_037_Small

Recovery Month: Speaking Up, Reaching Out

September is a transitional month, part summer and part fall, its days shifting from warm to chilly.


How fitting, then, that September is Recovery Month. During September we celebrate individuals’ recovery journeys—how they’ve created full, satisfying lives while recovering from mental health challenges. Recovery is all about transition and transformation.

This marks the 25th year for Recovery Month. The theme for 2014,“Join the Voices for Recovery: Speak Up, Reach Out,” encourages people to speak openly about their mental health experiences.


That’s exactly what we do at the Mental Health Association in Greensboro. We encourage peers to share their struggles and triumphs, their pain and joy. By sharing, we bring mental illness out of the shadows and into the light.

In the spirit of Recovery Month, here are some thoughts from MHAG staff members.

SusanWhen I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia, severe depression, and anxiety. For me, recovery has meant the luxury of time to work through issues, along with lots of empathetic, loving, nonjudgmental care from family and friends. I believe in taking life one moment at a time, one hour at a time, one day at a time—all the while remembering: this too shall pass.   ~ Susan Ball, Executive Director

JanAfter experiencing postpartum depression with my second daughter, I have a greater understanding of what other people may be going through.  Once you have felt clawing depression even when it appears that all is well in your life, then you realize that depression is an illness, not a bad mood or a conscious choice.  ~ Jan Cooke, Accounting Manager

NellieAt 15 I was diagnosed with severe depression, though I’m pretty sure it started much younger than that. By the time I was 30, they had developed my diagnosis to be Bipolar Depressive Disorder, Mania Type II. I am much more self-aware now than I used to be. I know that I’ve survived this far, and it makes me feel more capable of surviving further and better. It has made me look at the world with a sense of compassion that is farther reaching than it used to be.  ~ Nellie Cooper, Office Manager

MylaI was diagnosed with depression in the fall of 2004. I had battled it without recognizing that that’s what was wrong since 1967. I only knew sadness and tears and just assumed I would always feel that way. Once I knew I could feel differently, I began to own my own voice, and I learned to speak up for myself. I was able to stop feeling overlooked and angry with others and turning that anger inward. I began to embrace life and look forward to things instead of always looking backwards.  ~ Myla Erwin, Director of Programs

CraigDealing with and overcoming anxiety and depression has made me a much stronger, more confident person.  I’m able to respond to the challenges that life brings without feeling overwhelmed most of the time, and I’m able to enjoy being with people and the great variety of emotional experiences they bring into my life.         ~ Craig Pritchard, Peer Support Specialist


Famous People Experience It Too

Mental health issues touch all of us, even those we idolize as celebrities or read about in history books. In many cases, their mental health challenges—think Vincent van Gogh and those swirling starry skies—seem to go hand in hand with genius.

Below is a slideshow of famous people with mental health conditions. Some may come as a surprise; others have been vocal about their challenges.

As you look, remember that one in five Americans experiences a mental health issue every year. Celebrities and regular citizens, old and young, male and female—mental illness does not distinguish. Please play your part in reducing stigma and advancing mental wellness.


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Haldol, Hyacinths, and Healing

Melody Moezzi in front of Scuppernong Books, downtown Greensboro
Melody Moezzi in front of Scuppernong Books, downtown Greensboro

Anyone who’s read Melody Moezzi’s memoir, Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, knows that she is articulate, strong-minded, observant, and wry. Anyone who heard her read and speak at Scuppernong Books last Friday knows that she’s also passionate about mental health reform, brilliant, and straight-talking.

Melody reads from her memoir
Melody reads from her memoir

A self-described “Iranian-American bipolar feminist,” Melody was born to Persian parents at the height of the Islamic revolution. Her parents, both doctors, raised her in Dayton, Ohio, in a tight-knit Iranian-American community. At 18, when Melody began battling pancreatitis, her family and community rallied around her. But when she attempted suicide and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there were no flowers. Keep your illness quiet was the message she got from her family and the medical establishment.

Telling Melody Moezzi to keep quiet is like telling a songbird to stop warbling. She won’t be hushed, nor will she put up with stigma, shame, mistreatment, and stereotyping around mental illness. “The silence is what ends up costing us in the end. People need to speak out,” she said in a question-and-answer session following her Friday reading. “The crux of the problem is that we don’t treat mental health as a human right.”

The audience at Scuppernong Books
The audience at Scuppernong Books

Of her own bipolar diagnosis, Melody said, “I don’t pretend to be okay. I still struggle with this daily, especially with depression. It’s a journey, and I’m learning as I go.”

“What’s in your daily toolbox?” an audience member asked her.

She listed a number of tools, including prayer, walking, keeping a structured schedule, writing daily, and seeing a therapist and psychiatrist. “For me, always, love is at the center of everything. That’s what I mean by prayer—it’s about love.”

After speaking for more than an hour, Melody signed copies of Haldol and Hyacinths, newly released in paperback, and talked with each person who approached her. People shared their experiences with mental health challenges while she listened closely, occasionally pushing back a thick strand of her hair.

Signing books
Signing books

There was no silence at the table where she sat. Instead there was a warm, easy flow of words. There was camaraderie and kindness. Most of all there was understanding.

When I got to Stillbrook [psychiatric institute], I was drowning in an ocean of despair. All the people I loved—all the sane, strong and sturdy people who wanted to save me—were stuck on a steady shore. Once at Stillbrook, I noticed a bunch of other people drowning around me, all within reach. It wasn’t just me in the abyss anymore, and now that I knew I wasn’t alone, I had a reason to tread water. Killing myself meant I couldn’t save them. Killing myself meant killing them. Suddenly, I had no choice. I had to swim. So, I swam to save the others, only to find, upon reaching shore, that they had saved me.

–Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life, chapter five

Haldol & Hyacinths

Potted Palm

by Mary Seymour, Director of Recovery Initiatives

This painting is the most treasured item in my office.

Palm Bright

It reminds me of where I come from and why I do the work I do. Its message is both poignant and hopeful.

My grandfather, Jon Gnagy, created the painting in 1935, while he was a patient at a mental institution in Philadelphia. Jonnie ended up there after having a psychotic episode; my mother, who was six at the time, remembers him lying on the living room couch and saying, “Take the children away! God is telling me to kill them!” My grandmother made an emergency phone call, and attendants came and whisked Jonnie off in an ambulance. He was twenty-eight.

At the time, my grandparents were living in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Jonnie was working for an ad agency. He was under tremendous stress both professionally and domestically, with a wife and two young children to provide for, while all he really wanted to do was paint.

Jonnie and my grandmother Mary Jo, three decades after his hospitalization
Jonnie and my grandmother, Mary Jo, 25 years after his hospitalization

Jonnie spent the next nine months in the hospital, where he was diagnosed with dementia praecox (“precocious madness”), a chronic, progressive disorder marked by delusions and steadily disintegrating thoughts . The doctors said his disease was not curable, and he was likely to have more breakdowns. They gave him elephant-strength sedatives and electroconvulsive therapy.

As his mind began to emerge from its neuron-tossed storm, Jonnie took  a box of paints and illustration board into the hospital solarium. He painted what he saw: a potted palm bathed in golden light. His brush strokes were sure and clear, his colors dazzlingly intense. Vibrant shades of orange, green, and yellow saturated his creation.

That day, in the sun-washed solarium, Jonnie began to come back to life. He reconnected with the things that fed his spirit: light, color, beauty, art. “Potted Palm” marked his first brave, vivid steps back to selfhood.

Jonnie was never hospitalized again, but his symptoms followed him for the rest of his life. He alternated between phases of expansive, charismatic, highly creative energy and low, dark, depressive cycles. Throughout it all, he drank. Today he would most likely have a dual diagnosis of alcohol dependence and bipolar disorder.

And yet he managed to be a star at NBC, where he became the first nationally televised art instructor. His show, Learn to Draw, reached millions of viewers in the 1950s and ‘60s. He continued to make his living as an artist until his death in 1981.

Jonnie in an NBC publicity shot
Jonnie in an NBC publicity shot

I only met Jonnie twice, but we are connected in ways both mysterious and clear. Like him, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital due to a psychotic episode. I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a creative spirit that is both a curse and a blessing.

These days I work at the Mental Health Association in Greensboro, where I help spread the word that people can and do recover from mental health challenges. The work, while inspiring, can also be draining. When I falter, I look at Jonnie’s painting.

It tells me that even in the midst of suffering, there is beauty and light and hope.

Thank you, Jonnie, for reminding me.


Speaking Our Truths

Let’s face it, we all love stories—telling them and hearing them. Stories help us make meaning out of our experiences. They render the world comprehensible.

Recovery stories are the ultimate meaning makers, turning pain and suffering into tools of transformation. They remind us that the ugly duckling becomes a swan; the caterpillar turns into a butterfly.


Now, with the debut of the Mental Health Association speakers bureau, we’re offering our own butterfly stories. By speaking our truths, we can educate the community about mental health, reduce social stigma, and provide hope and inspiration.

Please contact us to set up a speaking engagement for your church, school, agency, club, community group, or whatever you have in mind. We promise we won’t bore you, and we may well broaden your perspective.

MHAG Speakers Bureau

The Mental Health Association in Greensboro offers a variety of speakers with firsthand experience of mental health and/or substance abuse struggles. They are available to tell their recovery stories at events such as conferences, classes, trainings, and workshops. We ask for a donation to the Association to cover time and travel costs. Contact Mary Seymour at mseymour@mhag.org or (336) 373.1402 x207 for more information.

Staff Speakers

Christa Whitesell, Director of Supportive Services

ChristaChrista was a teacher for 16 years before coming to MHAG in 2013. She speaks eloquently of her experiences with severe depression, suicidality, and chronic anxiety. Christa works her recovery every day and offers wisdom acquired from hard-earned experience. She says, “My mental health challenges have taught me that a diagnosis is not a definition of self.  It is a piece of self.”  She draws inspiration from the words of Robert Frost: “The best way out is through.”

 Tyrone Collins, Peer Support Specialist

TyroneTyrone struggled with substance use for 25 years, including an addiction to crack cocaine. He spent time in two inpatient facilities but continued to relapse. Finally in 2010 he entered an intensive outpatient program for substance use and worked on his spiritual life. Tyrone, whose favorite saying is the serenity prayer, says, “I define my recovery as being able to handle life and all that it hands me—good or bad—without self medicating.”

David Cray, Peer Support Specialist

David 3David is a poet and classical guitarist. He has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and went through a period of using drugs. He says, “I struggled for a long time. A big part of the problem was my denial: not wanting to believe that something as simple as a substance could be a problem.” David cites his faith in God as a huge factor in his recovery. He adds, “Through learning about my illness and applying recovery principles, I have come to have greater meaning and purpose in my life.”

 Mary Seymour, Director of Recovery Initiatives

MaryMary has written about her experiences with bipolar disorder in Newsweek, Smith Alumnae Quarterly, and O.Henry Magazine. She was first hospitalized in 1995 for a psychotic episode, an experience that represented her worst fears. After feeling victimized by her diagnosis for several years, she began to embrace it. Now she looks at having a mental health challenge as an opportunity for growth. “My so-called illness has made me more compassionate, strong, and resourceful,” she says. Mary is a therapist, peer support specialist, artist, writer, and horsewoman.

Myla Erwin, Director of Programs

MylaMyla was diagnosed with depression in 2004 after unknowingly dealing with it for decades. She says, “I battled depression from my preteen years, but it was never recognized back in the ’60s, as doctors were hesitant to diagnose depression in children.”  She adds, “I cried every day for 30 years without knowing why. The day the medicine started working, I felt like I began to go sane.” Myla is pursuing a master’s degree in Christian counseling.

Community Speakers

Heather Flaherty

Heather Heather has received diagnoses ranging from trichotillomania to major depression to schizoaffective disorder. She has attempted suicide, cut herself, and experienced crippling social phobia. In 2006 she began attending a mental health support group but was shaking too hard to speak. Now she co-facilitates that group and is training to be a peer support specialist. Heather attributes her recovery to a great therapist and psychiatrist, recovery classes, and peers. She says, “For the first time in my 27 years of living, I have self worth.”

Norma Jean Wilkes

Norma JeanNorma Jean’s story of weathering the many storms of bipolar disorder is raw and compelling. Her  personal account of living through a roller coaster of moods, thoughts, and behaviors has touched many lives and given hope to others who struggle with mental health challenges. Norma Jean has been a therapist, workshop presenter, public speaker, and storyteller. She is a certified peer support specialist who leads a mind-body health group at Daymark Recovery in Winston-Salem.

Diana Marsh

DianaDiana, who has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, has experienced child abuse, domestic violence, illiteracy, and substance abuse. Her recovery path was paved with bumps and slips until 2003, when she decided she could either change or die. “I made up my mind that I was no longer going to be hospitalized for mental illness, incarcerated, victimized, homeless, hopeless, or high,” she says. A recovery educator and peer support specialist for Insight Health Human Services, Diana is earning her bachelor’s in social work at Winston-Salem State University.