Dicy McCullough: Real people with real needs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 23, 2011

Many times the way we perceive a person is not a true picture of who that person is. A friend of mine, Millicent Hoffner, always appeared to enjoy life and living. She was a teacherís assistant at Mount Ulla when I was the music teacher. At meetings, or school functions, Millicent would be the one to tell a joke where everyone laughed. She often described herself as happy go lucky, jovial, and a prankster. Little did anyone know that was about to change.
Ever since childhood, Millicent has had a problem with her weight. She remembers being teased and embarrassed when one of her teachers in elementary school weighed everyone in front of the entire class. Millicent wanted to hide and even now can ěsmell the smells of that room.î Eight years ago she decided to do something about her weight. The diet she chose was so extreme she even refused communion at her church, Thyatira. As a result, her body began to change in ways she hadnít anticipated. Millicent began having headaches so severe she needed therapy to deal with the pain. One day while at a therapy session, she had a breakdown and immediately was taken to Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte. As she described it, the feeling was like jumping out of an airplane into a deep black hole. As a result of her breakdown, sheís now more understanding and tolerant of people with problems. She wants her story told in hopes it will bring encouragement to someone else suffering from depression.
One important message she wants to share is that people with mental illness are real people with real needs. ěItís OK to talk to them.î
The climb out of the hole, for Millicent, has been a slow one. Before the breakdown, she was active in the West Rowan community through school and church functions, and she worked full time. Many of her friends feel the combination of diet and a heavy schedule is what led to the breakdown. Community activities, her work and family had to be placed on hold because she didnít have any desire to interact with the outside world.
Millicent gives credit to her doctor, Dr. Scott Lurie of Charlotte, and therapist, Jackie Grissom of Concord, for helping her find her way out of the ěblack hole.î Yet, sheís quick to say there were other people and factors that were instrumental in her recovery as well.
One of the very first people to visit her in the hospital was her pastor, the Rev. Sandy Kern. When Reverend Kern came to visit, one of the things she gave Millicent was a journal. Millicent remembers thinking, ěWhat am I going to do with this thing?î Little did she know the journal would be one of the most important tools she would use for recovery. She found when she wrote her thoughts down, ěit was like a soothing medicine.î Journaling allowed her to look at herself on a more personal level and figure out what was bothering her for that day.
Millicent is also grateful for friends like Michelle Patterson, who reached out and gave her small jobs to do for Patterson Farm. At first all she did was stuff envelopes, but even this task was building a bridge to the outside world. Now she entertains the children when they visit the farm on the school tours. On days she feels down, the thought of a child or adult depending on her makes her feel she has value.
Simple little things, like a child remembering she was the lady who sang when their class came to visit, or someone asking where is her big hat, puts a smile on Millicentís face and helps her make it through the day.
I experienced one of those tours when I went with the kindergarten classes from Enochville. Millicent is a natural entertainer and had approximately 200 children standing in a semi-circle, leading them in a chorus of ěOld MacDonald Had a Farm.î She was at ease and made everyone else feel at ease while explaining the procedures of the tour. There were no signs of an illness visible that day.
Another factor in recovery was a slow return to church. The most important part of her life has always been church and leading the childrenís choir. Even though she left the church, the church never left Millicent or her family. The congregation of Thyatira has always been there for them, providing food and comfort.
She wants everyone to know how appreciative she is of the thoughtfulness and concern during this difficult time in her life. Most of all she is thankful for her husband, Jimmy. She believes he truly has shown unconditional love. No matter the circumstances or what she did, Jimmy was there with her every step of the way. While she was in the hospital, he worked full time, took care of not only the house and her needs, but also continued to fulfill his responsibilities at church. Jimmy and Millicent recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary at Thyatira, with praise and thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness. Millicentís life is now full and joyous. She says, ěNot only is God good, but so is life.î

Dicy McCullough is a writer and poet who lives in Rowan County. She can be reached at 704-278-4377.