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
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.
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.
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 847−524−8800 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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