For more than a decade, 34-year-old Natalie of Cheshire lived in a state of upheaval. The mother of two was diagnosed with manic depression when she was just 24 years old and was hospitalized numerous times over the next several years for severe depression.
“Looking back, I realize I never really had a fair chance of recovering from my mood disorder because I was suffering from another illness – alcoholism.”
From 1997 until August 2002, Natalie continued drinking, completely unaware of the effects alcohol was having on her emotional well-being. “When I was first diagnosed as manic depressive, the doctors at the hospital said I should stop drinking,” she said. “My only response was to think, ‘surely that can’t mean wine.’”
“I drank in order to suppress the negative feelings of mania and depression. The more I drank the sicker I became, yet I would not address my alcohol problem because alcohol had become my best friend,” she said.
Unfortunately, her “best friend” was interfering with Natalie’s ability to care for her family. One day, after drinking heavily, she passed out on her kitchen floor. When her husband came home from work, he found their toddler son crying hysterically, trying to wake up his mommy.
“My husband was devastated,” she said. “He told me that unless I got help for my addiction, he was going to leave me and take the children.”
The ultimatum worked. Natalie didn’t want to lose her family and decided once and for all to battle her mood disorder and her alcoholism. In June 2004, Natalie entered Rushford’s intensive outpatient program for adults suffering from mental health and addiction disorders and immediately stopped drinking.
For Natalie, giving up alcohol was only part of the solution. “For me, working with counselors who understand my mood disorder as well as my addiction disorder has been key to my recovery,” she said. Natalie has not seen the inside of a hospital in more than two years. She is not drinking and feels the support of a program designed to help people suffering with dual disorders made all the difference in improving her mental health.
Her family has begun to heal from the emotional wounds that mental illness and addiction often cause. “My husband has been tremendously supportive of me throughout the recovery process,” she said. “I understand now how my illnesses were hurting him and our children, and I never want that to happen again.”
Natalie recommends that people suffering from mental illness seek help. “Total abstinence from alcohol and understanding of my illness has greatly improved my mood swings and ability to lead a normal life,” she said. “I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without the professional help I received at Rushford.”
David is a 65-year-old grandfather from Meriden whose life has been filled with a lot more downs than ups. The low point came in 1994, when the former construction company owner attempted suicide.
David’s problems began in 1967 when he suffered a series of devastating blows. First his father was killed in a head-on collision after drinking and driving. A short time later, David’s wife filed for divorce. Soon David found himself without a home or a job. It was then that his life-long struggle with mental illness began. For the next 20-plus years, David spent his life in and out of institutions, addicted to alcohol and dealing with paranoia and depression.
By 1994, he decided he just couldn’t handle life anymore. One night, he swallowed a fistful of sleeping pills and laid down on his bed, thinking he would never wake up again. Fortunately, he woke an hour later with a fierce determination to live. After racing to the emergency room and undergoing an excruciating stomach pumping, David was determined to change his life for the better.
In January 1995, he began receiving outpatient therapy at Rushford, then MidState Behavioral Health, for substance abuse and mental health issues. He also joined a club that he believes saved his life.
“If it wasn’t for the Friendship Club, I would probably be dead,” said David. Rushford’s Friendship Club is a member-governed program that provides long-term support to persons with mental health disabilities. The program is designed to enrich, empower and encourage individuals to develop work, daily living and social skills so they can be successful living independently.
David is extremely active in the club. He holds a job in the kitchen helping prepare meals for club members and is a catcher for the Friendship Flyers, the club’s softball team. He says that the Friendship Club provides him a real sense of accomplishment and, more importantly, something to look forward to each day. “I feel blessed to be a part of this club,” he said. “It has made all the difference in my life.”
Twenty-two-year-old Sarina of Cromwell spent much of her childhood shuffled among foster homes. Her father died of a drug overdose when she was only five and her mother was unable to care for her.
For many years, Sarina said she truly believed that she would never accomplish anything in her life. She dropped out of high school during her junior year and ran away from what would turn out to be her last foster home.
In 2003, Sarina’s grandmother agreed to take her in and immediately began giving her the love and attention she needed to rebuild her self-esteem. With her grandmother’s encouragement, it wasn’t long before Sarina started believing in herself. She soon began dreaming about going to college; however, she knew that the first step in realizing her dream was graduating from high school.
In 2004, Sarina enrolled in Rushford’s Alternative Youth School in Middletown -- a program held in collaboration with Middletown High School to help students who have had difficulties achieving success in a traditional school setting.
In June, Sarina completed the program and received her high school diploma. She credits her grandmother and the staff of the alternative school for helping her achieve what she once believed was impossible. In September, Sarina will begin living her dream when she starts classes at Central Connecticut State University.“I think all along I just needed people to believe in me so I could believe in myself,” she said. “It’s wonderful now to feel like my life can be anything I want it to be.”