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Recov­ery is Pos­si­ble: Tom’s Story

Tom Fled­der­man, Ken­neth Young Center’s Drop-In Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ist Team Lead, under­stands first-hand that peer sup­port can be a cru­cial sup­port sys­tem for peo­ple liv­ing in recov­ery with men­tal health chal­lenges. In hon­or of Nation­al Recov­ery Month, he shares his per­son­al jour­ney through recovery. 

Please note that some of the painful expe­ri­ences that Tom shares in his jour­nal­ing piece below may be upset­ting to read. Ken­neth Young Cen­ter is grate­ful to cre­ate this space for Tom to brave­ly share his per­son­al expe­ri­ence. At the same time, we rec­og­nize that read­ing about trau­ma can also cause trau­ma. Please take care of your­self, and read this jour­nal entry at your own discretion.

Thank you, Tom, for your ongo­ing com­mit­ment to your own well­ness, and to the clients that you serve each day. We are proud to cel­e­brate your ded­i­ca­tion and all the work you do to sup­port recovery!

Tom’s Recov­ery Story

Tom

Tom shares his experience and emphasizes the powerful role that peer support can play in recovery.

Hi, my name is Tom Fled­der­man. At age 19, I was diag­nosed with major depres­sion with psy­chot­ic fea­tures and PTSD. Much lat­er in life, I was diag­nosed with schizoaf­fec­tive dis­or­der with depres­sion and PTSD. I guess the diag­no­sis is irrel­e­vant. Rel­e­vant is that for many years I have heard, in all my wak­ing hours dep­re­cat­ing voic­es that oth­ers do not hear, have suf­fered from debil­i­tat­ing and pro­longed depres­sions, and expe­ri­enced very real flash­backs to bru­tal sex­u­al abuse which took place over a peri­od of about 10 years while in grade school and high school. For most of my adult life, I thought recov­ery would con­sist of the ces­sa­tion of or at least sig­nif­i­cant relief from these symp­toms. For me, that nev­er hap­pened. I still hear voic­es that are not there when­ev­er I am awake. I still suf­fer from peri­ods of depres­sion, though I know how to mit­i­gate these. I still expe­ri­ence flash­backs that make it feel like I am being sex­u­al­ly abused again and again. For me recov­ery came when I found peer sup­port, grate­ful­ness, and, hope. My recov­ery has become the abil­i­ty to co-exist with my symp­toms while liv­ing a mean­ing­ful life filled with joy.

Until recent­ly, most of my adult life was a patch­work of being employed or not being employed but con­stant­ly filled with the search for the mag­ic pill, doc­tor, or ther­a­pist who would make my symp­toms all go away. I worked in church­es, as a teacher of chem­istry and physics, with adults with devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, and as a chemist. I spent almost as much time, not work­ing, most­ly lan­guish­ing in bed. I went from psy­chi­a­trist to psy­chi­a­trist, try­ing all of the newest and most promis­ing med­i­cines. I looked for the ther­a­pist who would give” me the insight to make it all bet­ter. I was in psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tals for extend­ed stays at least 40 or 50 times. Some­how, in the midst of all this I got mar­ried and had 2 chil­dren. Yes there were moments of joy, mean­ing, and hope in my life, but they were fleet­ing. Most­ly, I was obsessed with the idea that the only thing that would make me hap­py was for the voic­es to go away, the depres­sion to cease to exist, and nev­er to expe­ri­ence a flash­back again.

Recovery square

My recov­ery bud­ded and then bloomed with the intro­duc­tion of peer sup­port into my life. Per­haps it had its birth­place in NAMI Con­nec­tion meet­ings – peer led meet­ings where per­sons with men­tal ill­ness­es share their expe­ri­ences, get feed­back from oth­ers, and also give feed­back to oth­ers. Here, I heard some peo­ple tell sto­ries of liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness and lead­ing very ful­fill­ing and mean­ing­ful lives. I began to have hope that I could do the same. It was in these NAMI Con­nec­tion meet­ings, that I was able to see the incred­i­ble pow­er of grate­ful­ness. I began to jour­nal the things I was grate­ful for – large and small. I had the love of my wife (of 30 years now) and my two grow­ing chil­dren. I was grate­ful for the full sup­port of my father, broth­er, and sis­ters – espe­cial­ly my old­est sis­ter, Lau­ra. I was thank­ful for my strong mind and the advanced edu­ca­tion that had been afford­ed me. I was start­ing to believe that maybe, despite the many set­backs, I was expe­ri­enc­ing, that my life was full and was meaningful.

Then a spe­cial kind of peer sup­port came into my life, that of the Cer­ti­fied Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ist. I don’t know why, per­haps it was through the grace of God, but a num­ber of such Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ists came into my life in a num­ber of places all at the same time. These are peo­ple who are spe­cial­ly trained to, as a way of help­ing oth­ers in their recov­ery, share parts or all of their recov­ery sto­ries. Many shared theirs with me. Their sto­ries and their (and per­haps some of my own) insight helped me see that I could live a full and mean­ing­ful life despite the symp­toms I was expe­ri­enc­ing. Maybe these symp­toms did not need to go away for me to live a good life. Now, I want­ed to do what these Cer­ti­fied Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ists were doing. I want­ed to share my sto­ry as a way of help­ing oth­ers move through their recov­ery. About six months lat­er Ken­neth Young Cen­ter gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to start that process. They gave me a very part-time job as a Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ist. I worked hard to learn what it takes to become cer­ti­fied. I stud­ied hard. I went to many con­fer­ences and sem­i­nars. To gain expe­ri­ence, I worked as many hours at KYC as they became avail­able. Approx­i­mate­ly two years lat­er I earned my CRSS (Cer­ti­fied Recov­ery Sup­port Spe­cial­ist) Cre­den­tial and became the Drop-In’s Team Lead. I had, over time cre­at­ed mean­ing in my life. I too was help­ing oth­ers by shar­ing my recov­ery story…and more.

I con­sid­er my recov­ery a work in progress. I still see a ther­a­pist and a psy­chi­a­trist, but most of all, I am sure to seek a healthy dose of peer support.

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Tom highlights how the connections he has made have supported his own recovery journey, as well as the journeys of others.

Resources

If you are look­ing for sup­port in recov­ery, or if you are fac­ing a men­tal health chal­lenge, you are not alone. 

KYC offers a num­ber of resources for recov­ery both for men­tal health and sub­stance use dis­or­ders. Click here to check out some of the resources that we offer. Call 8475248800 to learn more.

KYC is also sup­ports the Illi­nois Call4Calm line. Any­one in the state of Illi­nois who is seek­ing emo­tion­al sup­port can text TALK to 552020 for Eng­lish or HABLAR for Span­ish to be con­nect­ed with a coun­selor who is famil­iar with the resources in your local area. This ser­vice is avail­able 24 hours a day and is free, although mes­sage and data rates may apply.


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