Finding their way back to lifeFor years, just leaving her house was an ordeal too difficult for Cloquet resident Sharyl Nelson to contemplate.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
For years, just leaving her house was an ordeal too difficult for Cloquet resident Sharyl Nelson to contemplate.
Although she had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder after the birth of her son in 1985, she largely ignored it, coping through alcohol abuse and isolating herself from others.
Then, in 2002, it got even worse.
"It really reared its ugly head," she explained. "I drank to get numb and the only time I left my house was to go to the liquor store. It got so bad I attempted suicide."
It was Nelson's wake-up call.
"I had hit ground zero," she said. "I realized I needed help and that I couldn't do it alone."
After several years of rehabilitation programs, therapy and time spent in hospitals, Nelson was referred to a Mental Illness Chemical Dependency Group (MICD) led by Therapist Kathy Jarve at the Human Development Center in Cloquet. Nelson attended the weekly meetings with 11 other women and men who have dual illnesses.
In the beginning, Nelson was skeptical that it would help.
"I felt so bad about myself that I didn't want to be in a room with a bunch of people," she said. "I felt so vulnerable."
Some things about the group made it easier, however.
"There was no pressure there and I never felt put on the spot," Nelson said. "You can go [to the meetings] even if you're still using [drugs or alcohol]."
Moose Lake resident Cindy Dockal attended the same group for a year and during that time she said she continued to abuse alcohol.
"I used to open a beer at 5 p.m. and drink until I passed out," she said.
Despite that, one of the goals of the group is to instill hope, Jarve said.
"Even when people slip," she said, "We let people know they can come back and get help."
A few months ago, Dockal said she wanted Jarve to push her into a treatment facility. She asked why Jarve hadn't told her to go [into an alcohol treatment program].
"She told me simply that it was up to me to decide," Dockal said. "I learned that I had to be ready for it. Three days later, I went."
Dockal completed a program that addressed her alcoholism and bipolar disorder and she has been sober for nearly a month. She believes her treatment and Jarve's group have made the difference. Attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the past made her feel uncomfortable.
"Just telling people my name and that I'm an alcoholic didn't really cover it for me," she said. "We have to understand our diseases. I didn't ask for [this], but it is what it is."
For her part, Nelson now looks forward to the weekly meetings. She also completed a dual diagnosis treatment program and has been sober for nearly four months. Both women now work at HDC part time.
"We've come a long way," Nelson said with a smile.
The idea to start MICD group meetings came from Jarve's experiences early in her career. She was working in chemical health and noticed some people weren't getting all the help they needed.
"People with dual disorders were falling through the cracks of our treatment system," she said. "Many who were leaving rehabilitation programs failed at least in part because mental health issues were not being addressed."
So Jarve went back to school and earned another degree, this time in mental health.
Today, she runs the MICD group by focusing on different topics each week. Participants discuss self-image, healthy boundaries, stress management and anger management skills among other topics. One more recent focus was on coping with feelings.
"I never cried before this," Dockal said. "I had closed off that whole part of me."
While mental health is getting a little more recognition these days, the stigma associated with it is still far too strong, Jarve said.
"If people would just talk more openly with each other about their struggles and dealing with their diagnoses, I believe more people would seek help," she said. "Everyone is touched in some way by chemical and mental health issues."
May is Mental Health Month and according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, 58 percent of Americans reported struggling in their lives at the end of 2008. This represents an increase of more than 22 million Americans who reported struggling earlier in the year.
Jarve is planning to start additional mental health groups during the summer months. She will lead a 12-week women's group, a 12-week adolescents group and an additional mixed group of men and women.
"Those who are struggling with a diagnosed mental illness and looking for ways to recover – these groups are for them," she said. "We believe everyone can recover."
For Nelson and Dockal, recovery is sweet.
"As long as we work our programs, we'll be OK and live happy lives," Dockal said.
Her most shining moment so far came in the past two weeks as she was digging in the garden and chatting with two of her grown daughters.
"I heard them talking to each other," she said. "One said, 'Look at mom – we got her back.'"
For more information about mental illness or about joining the summer groups, contact the Human Development Center at 218-879-4559.