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Open Sky Community Services Annual Appeal

A letter from Michael

“Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.”    
  -Fred Rogers       

 

You could say that I’m a man on a mission. My goal? To make sure people know it’s OK to ask for help. I just wish I had understood that simple fact before crippling depression and a manic episode landed me in the hospital.

Before I begin telling you a little bit of my story, I want to take a moment to make sure you realize the important role that YOU and so many other generous supporters have played in my recovery from mental illness. Your donations to Open Sky, and before that Alternatives and The Bridge, meant that when I was ready, help was there. Multiply my story by the thousands of people Open Sky serves each year and you’ll maybe, just maybe have a small hint of the difference you’ve made.

For most people, the onset of mental illness begins in their youth. In fact, for three-quarters of my peers, it makes an appearance by age 24.  I guess that makes me an exception, because I had decades of work experience behind me when a perfect storm of events combined to send me spiraling into despair. As I look back on my life, I can certainly see some red flags that probably shouldn’t have been ignored, but I grew up at a time when you just didn’t talk these kinds of things and as a proud Irishman, I just couldn’t admit that things were not alright.

If you think the stigma surrounding mental illness is a barrier these days, and I’m not making light of the challenges we face today, you’d be appalled by how much worse it was when I dropped out of Northeastern University back in the 70’s. There were no Olympic gold medalists discussing their battles with depression in television ads for online counseling services or rock stars opening up about their struggles with bipolar disorder.  As I’ve said, it just wasn’t talked about. I probably could have used help at that point in my life. I didn’t get it.

What I did get was a job at a library at Harvard University and later a nineteen year career as a supervisor at Waldenbooks. But then, disaster struck. Waldenbooks went out of business. I was adrift. Things quickly deteriorated and a six-month period of multiple hospitalizations and attempts to find the right medication began. I wasn’t taking care of my health and it showed. In time, the right diagnosis and medications were found and I began getting the help I needed. But although things were starting to move in the right direction, I no longer had a career and was struggling to find a new purpose in life.

Fortunately, I had been connected with Alternatives, which joined with The Bridge last year to become Open Sky. One of the senior staff at the agency saw something in me and suggested that I look into training to become a Peer Support Specialist. Peer Support is all about people with a history of mental illness who have moved along on their own path to recovery inspiring others with the hope that, they too can begin the healing process. I knew from my own experience that recovery is real. The services that YOUR dollars support had given me the tools to succeed. I passed my test to become a Peer Support Specialist. Now it was my turn to pay it forward.

With lots of encouragement from staff at Open Sky and others, I’ve now had the opportunity to share my unique perspective as someone who receives mental health services in a number of different forums: serving on UMASS Memorial Medical Center’s Psychiatric Patient Family Advisory Council; Open Sky’s Worcester Advisory Council; and just recently, as a newly inducted member of the Open Sky Board of Directors! Whether I’m volunteering on a council or board, or partnering with my peers and staff colleagues on mental health wellness and recovery activities, I hope that others see me as a role model. Not as someone who’s so very special – just as someone who finally found the courage to ask for help and the commitment to keep working at getting better.

In many ways, I am far luckier than many of the other people served by Open Sky. I had years of work experience before my illness became severe. I’m now healthy enough to join Team Genesis at the annual Falmouth Road Race. I am blessed to have a nice place to live and, most importantly, a very supportive family. For the first time in a decade, I have a permanent job - at the Worcester Public Library. But the luckiest thing about me is, that when I was ready to accept it, help was there.

I ask you today to join me in making sure that people know that it’s OK to ask for help. I ask you to consider giving generously so that other people like me, particularly those without the support and resources I had, are able to start their own recovery journeys. With your donations, you’ll be investing in their future – a future of promise. 

In the words of the great philosopher Mr. Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.” Thank you for being one of those people.

 

Sincerely,

Michael Kilcoyne