Mental Illness Awareness speaker: Recovery takes heart, brains and courage

We are all broken in some way, but we don’t have to stay that way, psychologist Dr. Chris Watson said Thursday at the annual Mental Illness Awareness Week awards luncheon at the Hefner VA Medical Center.

“We have everything we need and more on the inside,” Watson said. “Our brokenness makes us human.”

Recovery was the main theme of the luncheon, organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Rowan. The event and the weeklong observance raise awareness that mental illness is treatable and most often manageable.

Watson called his talk, “What I Learned from the Wizard Along the Yellow Brick Road of Recovery — Embrace Your Dorothy.” Working through our brokenness requires heart, brains and courage, he said — the qualities valued by “Wizard of Oz” characters.

Everyone desires the wholeness that comes with recovery, according to Watson, and can regain what they had before if they can reach “the perfectly sublime state of imperfection.” In a word, acceptance.

And that can be a lifelong search — a process people go through all the time, not a final point to reach, he said.

Along those lines, awards for outstanding achievement were presented on behalf of several organizations:

• VA Medical Center: Eric Johnson, Payton Lewis, Willie Thomas Hoover and Dennis Marks.

• Carter House: John Burgdoff, Terri Fortner, Lillie Lewis, Dale Lee and Lillian Webb.

• Daymark: Susan Delane Jolly.

• Monarch: C. Paul Boyd.

• NAMI Rowan: Susan Agner, Shanyn Aysta-Isaac, La Shay Avery, Ethel Bambert-Revis, Elizabeth Cook, Rhonda Culler, Raphael D’Ausilio, Lee Ann Garrett, Carol Ann Racz Greene, Mike Hibler, Peggy Mangold, Stephen Prevot, Scott Putnam, Major Sampson and Chaplain Ryan Wagers.

Honored as professionals of the year were Ted Thomas and Carlos and Joyce Parra.

Kaye Green, director of the Hefner VA, said in her welcome to the group that recovery was about getting people to their highest level of functioning. She shared a letter she received recently from a veteran who wanted to thank the medical center for doing just that — “for no less than saving my life.” He described feeling suicidal and depressed and even breaking down in tears in a meeting where he was trying to do business.

Meds the man received after going to a civilian doctor and then the VA emergency department helped, he said. But then VA psychologist Dr. Brandon Bryan reached out to him and suggested therapy, warning it would be harder than going to Vietnam. The man said that turned out to be true. Bryan used a calm, referee-like approach to help him “battle his monsters,” he wrote. Now his business and home life are going well, and he was thankful to the people at the VA.

NAMI Rowan has works from its annual art festival — “Celebrating Recovery, Renewal Hope, Courage, Love” — on display at Rowan Public Library this month.

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