Who would ever believe that 48-yo Robert Martin was once homeless?
For nearly two years, he lived over a grate at 13th and Locust Streets in downtown Philadelphia. A cardboard box was his home, while numerous mental health problems - including substance abuse issues and two stints in jail - played havoc with his brain.
What to eat? At night when the nearby Dunkin' Donuts closed, he foraged for food in the Dumpster "before the rats got to it," he said.
Recovery came in the form of a mental health consortium that worked with Robert and other folks with mental illness to get him on the road to recovery.
"If it could work for a person like me," he said to our rapt audience at the Abington Presbyterian Church, "it can work for anyone." When they're ready.
"I have a beautiful three-bedroom house, a beautiful wife" - he met Gloria at the Consortium and they married the day after graduation from the program - "a beautiful car" and a wonderful job.
Rob works as a WRAP Coordinator/Supervisor of CREATING INCREASED CONNECTIONS (CIC) of Bridgeport, PA (near Norristown).
His speaking engagements take him far from home. New Directions has been trying for eight months to get a speaker on the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. It was worth the wait. Robert was "fantastic," as my colleague Ada Moss Fleisher said to me.
The WRAP Plan, invented by Mary Ellen Copeland and likeminded people in VT, consists of a Toolbox of items that help stabilize your mood.
Rob's toolbox consists of:
Photo of his wife Gloria
Scented candles and bubble bath
His daily maintenance plan:
Gets down on his knees and prays
Takes his meds
Eats a healthy breakfast
Rob said, "While all of my hair is gone, half of my mind is gone, too, from all the trauma I've been through."
We cannot even imagine what it's like to be homeless or incarcerated or to use drugs until you don't know who you are anymore.
What made his presentation so compelling was the way he involved the audience. First he asked our permission to call on them. And we spoke.
He talked about 'triggers.' Events that will produce a mood swing, anxiety, depression, mania, psychosis, or suicidal thoughts.
People shared their triggers, both with Rob and in our Small Group Discussions which followed.
Triggers included: An upcoming Easter dinner with scads of relatives, all asking, "Have you found a job yet?"
Half a dozen young people in our group are students. The stress of test-taking or getting in a paper, has them teetering on the brink of a moodswing.
Rob shared many of his triggers with us.
The night. In the past, night was party-time for Robert. He liked the feel of money in his pockets so he would go out and p - a - r - t - y. He didn't elaborate but
The temptation has never left him. Gloria calls to check on him, which is very important to his wellness.
Today he doesn't carry much money with him, and rarely a debit card.
Note: he didn't say a credit card, which is a huge enemy for folks with bipolar d/o when we go on our spending sprees.
I've always been a cheapskate, so during my first mania-psychosis, I bought a Timex Watch for $22.
Do you see your triggers coming? asked Rob.
Yes! In this way, we can plan ahead and have an Action Plan ready for us.
What do we do when we are 'breaking down?'
- Talk to someone on the phone. When Rob feels on edge at work, he'll call someone who can reassure him he can cope.
- Other ways might be to meditate, pray, put on soothing music, go for a walk, or, if necessary call your doctor. That's what the doc is there for. You are not disturbing this man or woman you have hired to keep you healthy.
We sent Rob home, 45 minutes away, with Begonias in the familiar Kremp's bag.
And also Katy's
What a privilege it was that Robert Martin, who overcame the terrible challenges mental illness visited upon him, was our Guest Speaker tonight.