Veterans’ Issues Column: The Long Walk Home
(Column: Veterans' Issues: The Long Walk Home)
Every morning and night, I look at Apricot, a young woman with orange skin, wide set eyes, a white flower in her hair and a broad flat nose. She stares at me over her left shoulder, lips pursed together. Apricot is simply to be admired and appreciated hanging there in the kitchen.
She is the signature painting of Arielle Rosenfeld, a tiny 64-year-old Jewish woman. Her husband, Hy, is a retired chiropractor and a Navy veteran. I met them through two friends, Michael and Elaine. The Rosenfelds told me that they became my landlords recently “because we wanted to study you without having to marry you.”
What is remarkable is that we had not met sooner, especially since they live only a few doors south of where I was living when my life fell apart. We also have several friends and interests in common. They are part of a remarkable story of fragility, relapse, recovery, hope and refusing to accept labeling.
Arielle overcame an abusive childhood, ill health, blindness and a milk-induced mental illness. After two bad marriages, she met Hy in 1986.
Hy, 56, grew up in Lindenhurst, a small, nearly all-white Long Island community. He was the son of a chiropractor. His grades were average when he graduated from high school in 1967. It was a fateful year. The Tet Offensive of 1968 wiped out most of the guys in his high school who had joined the army. The more experienced guys had figured out how to stay alive. But the new soldiers were often killed a few days or weeks after they got there. His dad didn’t want him to be cannon fodder so he joined the navy.
Hy served from 1968 to 1974 as an electronics expert and was stationed in the Philippines for two years. When he returned to civilian life, the GI Bill helped him complete his college studies. His belief in alternative healing lead him to reject American Medical Association medical practices. According to Hy, “poor nutrition and misalignment of the spine cause most of the diseases that we face today.” As for antidepressants, he feels, “the allopaths can only prescribe pills that mask the symptoms. You’ve got to find out what’s causing the illness.”
He and his wife Arielle are soul-mates in their alternative healing philosophy. Their ideas resonate with people like Michael and Elaine. Michael, a bright, talented individual, was a bioengineer before the onset of his bipolar disorder. Today he organizes procovery projects with NAMI and the First Unitarian Society. Meanwhile, Elaine’s paintings and poetry helped support the Walk for the Mind of America. These efforts help them boost their spirits between struggles with the mental health establishment and supplement their meager SSI benefits.
I asked them for help this summer when I was facing the possibility of returning to veterans housing. When I met the Rosenfelds, I found they were curious about my work as a peer mentor. We decided they could help stabilize my housing situation and they liked my energy.
After moving in I was eating well and living with two interesting people in a safe environment. I began feeling more alive and less anxious. One bright day, I announced to my psychiatrist that I no longer needed my antidepressants and stopped taking them.
One of the first people with whom I shared my renewed enthusiasm was Danielle, a young black woman who had been told she was “learning disabled” when she was in school. Now in her mid-20s she struggles with her reading and her mind. She is determined to obtain her GED. I have been tutoring and encouraging her. Last week, I had one of the best feelings in my life when she sat me down to demonstrate her reading.
Now, A.D. is After Difficulty, After Depression and After Dissolution. At the depths. But AD also means After Decisions. We arise, once more. The downs, disorders and disarranged thoughts need not define us. AD stands for Activating Danielle. The journey to mental health begins when we believe that we can achieve.