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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 373.1402 x207 for more information.
Christa Whitesell, Director of Supportive Services
Christa 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
Tyrone 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 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
Mary 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
Myla 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.
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 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, 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.