In Their Own Voices
These three short essays are first person accounts of experience at Windhorse Community Services—describing, in their own voices, the rich and sometimes rugged path of recovery.
From a former Client
I am lying in a hospital bed on a Saturday night in June, 2012. My hands and legs have been restrained although I have been compliant throughout my first manic episode. I am scared and confused, anxious about missing a night of work at a posh restaurant. My head is foggy from the large shot of Haldol that had been pumped into my leg, which is now bruised and sore. I realize that I have been stripped of all rights – I am not even entitled to that one phone call, or a visit from my worried parents. I am given a low dose of Abilify and shipped via (very expensive) ambulance to a hospital where I would stay for four more days, barred from leaving the campus and only allowed phone calls to certain people at certain times. Although I made friendships that I still maintain and enjoyed some of the art projects, I left the hospital more confused than when I arrived. In the process I had also been fired from the posh restaurant where I had worked for a year as well as my second job at a local farm. I had been stripped of everything I had built for myself over the years in the course of one weekend.
It is now mid-November. The abilify was causing me to gain weight and shake uncontrollably so I had stopped taking it. After expressing depressive symptoms to my psychiatrist I was prescribed Wellbutrin. When that didn’t seem to work I stopped taking it as well. I didn’t understand that quitting an anti-depressant cold turkey can lead to suicidal ideation. And it was. My waking hours are generally spent in a depressed stupor, trying to invent ways to end my life that would have the least impact on my loved ones. In my mind my disappearance would only improve their lives, but I didn’t want it to be too gruesome. Over the next eight months my depression would worsen to the point that I became paranoid and stopped eating or drinking.
I am hospitalized again. I am mute and my footsteps are more of a shuffle. The hospital psychiatrist prescribes Lithium. At first I refuse it, but eventually the kind staff are able to coax me to take it. Two weeks pass, and something clicks. I see a pine tree and think “that tree is beautiful.” I recognize this thought as the first positive one I had had in months. I begin speaking, practicing yoga and even jogging. I create friendships that would last over the years. But my brain is still severely impacted by the depression that ravaged it for so many months. I doubt that I will ever be able to lead a meaningful life. The hospital insists that I must have an aftercare program and recommends Windhorse Community Services due to its Buddhist philosophy and proximity to my parent’s house where I would live.
I walk down Yarmouth Ave. It is a bright, clear day in Boulder, CO. I am scheduled to meet with my Windhorse Therapist. Butterflies fly in my stomach, I’ve only met her a few times and my depression has left me with severe social anxiety. As I sit in the waiting room I wonder whether she will like me. I wonder what she will think of the fact that I have hardly worked for over a year. That I spent 8 months of the last year stuck in my own head, ruminating about how to end my life. She welcomes me in with a friendly smile. As I begin to speak I feel more comfortable. She doesn’t use judgmental language and is in fact compassionate and kind. She tells me that I am worthwhile as a human because I am a human, not in relation to my productivity. My mind is blown. She encourages me to begin volunteering as a co-facilitator of the Windhorse Social group, going on to co-facilitate the garden group as well. I take JoAnn’s classes and learn that I don’t have to listen to every thought I have – they aren’t all true. More mind blowing. JoAnn (leader of Community Programs) and I develop the Hero’s Journey of Recovery. I get hired as the vocational rehabilitation associate at Windhorse’s social enterprise (now Mindful Works). My Basic Attender helps me make calls to graduate schools, gets me back on my bicycle and shows me unlimited positive regard.
I sit in the admissions office at Lenoir Rhyne University, Asheville, NC. Bolstered by the dedication and support of my team and other wonderful people I met during my experience at Windhorse I have moved across country by myself to attend graduate school at Lenoir Rhyne University. I will go on to work full time while in school to get my master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, eventually becoming a licensed therapist.
I am more than my disorder. My team helped me see that I am not a victim of a disorder, that in my core I am well. Like the sun that is always present even when covered by clouds. I now pass that on to my clients as a full-time therapist at a community mental health organization serving high school students.
From a current client
I’ve been a client at Windhorse Community Services for 5 years, but it wasn’t until my 3rd year at that I started feeling that I wished I had found them earlier. The previous programs I went to before coming to WCS made me feel like I was being kept from growing into the person I wanted to become.
When I came to WCS the first thing I noticed was the support of my team and how much they wanted me to reach my personal goals as well as my life goals. It took a little bit for me to adjust to the process of how my Windhorse team works. One thing I have learned is that my team members are always there to support me, even when it has felt at times like we bumped heads. My team is like a second family, which has changed from when I first started at WCS and needed more support. Over the last four years the team has changed in size to the kind of support I may need or want to have.
One of my concerns when I came to WCS was whether my parents and I would ever get to a point where we would have adult relations instead of the always child/adult relations. My team was able to help me accomplish this by suggesting a weekly family call between my team supervisor, therapist, parents and I. During the family calls I felt more comfortable being able to voice my needs and wants from my parents because I had my team supervisor as well as my therapist to act as a mediator between me and my parents. Today I have my team to thank for the better adult conversations with my parents.
Another one of my concerns when I first came to WCS was about medication, because when I came here I was on a lot of medications and some that I wasn’t sure why I was on. When I got to talk to my therapist and explain that I didn’t know why I was on some of my medications and my goal was to not have to be on as many medications that I was on, they said a visit to a psychiatrist will help me understand which medications I might not actually need to be on and which ones were actually benefiting me. I really felt heard and listened to and today I’m on the bare minimum of medication that I need to be on. I feel like WCS really wants to figure out what will work with each individual not based on what their diagnosis is but what their goals are in life and how they can achieve them with the right kind of support.
From a current Client
What Makes Windhorse Different
I have always known I stood out. Even from a young age I moved to the beat of my own drum. Windhorse is much the same. As I look back on the work I have done with them, I think of a river. As I have evolved the work and my team has changed with me. With other organizations I have felt stuffed into a predetermined box. Windhorse took the raw material and helped me mold it with my own input. When we did not agree we discussed the issues, or they reflected to me how my behavior looked. It was not an easy process, but it helped me learn that I did not want to present myself to the world that way. My challenges don’t define me, nor do the mistakes of my past. They are learning experiences for me to grow upon.
With each new day I am presented with a new challenge–with tools and the knowledge I have with me, I am learning to navigate my mental health and define myself in a new way.
– Emily A
Listen to more Client stories on the WCS Podcast:
- Community Programs during COVID: Nurturing Your Inner Hero
- I AM WHAT I DO: A Conversation with Filmmaker Scott Klumb
- Considering the Experiences of Medications and Whole-Person Health—Client Perspectives (Part One)
- Experiences of Medications and Whole-Person Health—Client Perspectives (Part Two)
- Managing Recovery Through the Camera Eye – A Filmmaker’s Journey
- Hero’s Journey part 1: Integrating Community Programs into Home-based Services & Windhorse Clinical Practice
- Hero’s Journey part 2 – Our Heroic Progression