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Advocacy in Action: NAMI Brown County

Written By: Alan Johnson, NAMI Ohio Contract Writer 

Danei Edelen was a nervous wreck the day she was to return to work after having a mental health crisis that required hospitalization.

“I was so scared. I laid out all my clothes and took a shower the night before to be as ready as possible. I woke up extra early to have time to ‘just be ready,’ she wrote.

On the way to work, she thought, “What am I going to say to these people? ‘Hi! I just had a psychotic break, what’s going on in your life?’”

She worried what her new co-workers would say around the coffee pot, if they would think of her like a patient from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

But minute by minute, day by day, month by month, Edelen regained her confidence and footing on the job and in life in general.

Now she is executive director of the Brown County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio. She helped create the NAMI affiliate a year ago in the rural county with few mental health service providers, but people with needs like everywhere else in the state.

“I am a thoroughly middle class mother in the heartland of Ohio,” she said  “This is who I am. I was angry at the world for an extremely long time. I would verbally lash out.”

But with the help of medication, counseling, and the support of family and friends, Edelen is doing the work she wants to do – helping and inspiring others. Her seven-year journey from a breakdown to the present was bumpy, she said. She felt alone and isolated at first.

“When you walk off that psych ward, it’s like there is this red cloak with every word for crazy written on it.”

Edelen said it’s vital that people get connected to mental health providers and to NAMI. “You are not alone. That is the message,” she said

Deanna Vietze, executive director of the Brown County Board of Mental Health & Addiction Services, said Edelen came to her with the idea of forming a NAMI chapter.     “The way she found NAMI was very positive,” Vietze said. “She wanted to help others.”

“She’s able to share her story and give others the hope it’s not a death sentence, that you can overcome and be a functioning member of society. It gives them a voice. They know when they’re going through something she’s been there as well.”

Vietze said rural Ohio has the same mental health issues as urban areas, but fewer resources and a problem with transportation.

On top of those concerns, people in Appalachian Ohio “learn you pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You don’t go to others for help. That often means there are families with years of untreated mental illness,”

Edelen, who lives with her husband on 13.5 acres in Brown County, is devoted to helping end the stigma of mental illness by speaking out.

“Silence does not aid understanding,” she wrote. “That is why I have come ‘out of the closet’ about my mental illness. That is why I am a presenter for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I am committed to ending the silence.”

Finding Hope in Recovery

Written By: Alan Johnson, NAMI Ohio Contract Writer

The voices in his head and hallucinations had haunted Wesley Walker incessantly for months by the time he found himself on the fifth floor of a parking garage.

The date was Jan. 3, 2013.

Suffering from chronic depression and schizoaffective disorder, Walker’s mental illness told him he was in a coma, perhaps in the hospital. He wanted to wake up, to snap out of it, to get his life back.

“I thought I could hit my head hard enough, maybe I’ll wake up,” Walker recalls thinking. At the parking garage, “I remember jumping off and falling and right before I hit I blacked out.”

For most people, that would have been the end. But miraculously – and perhaps for a greater purpose – Walker survived his leap. However, he experienced severe injuries, including a broken ankle, knee cap, femur and extensive facial damage.

Walker, now 28, today is an advocate with NAMI Ohio, telling the story of his remarkable mental health journey to school groups and others, focusing on suicide prevention and mental health awareness.

“I had this disorder since sixth grade. I consider myself very lucky,” Walker said in an interview.

One of Walker’s primary themes is “ending the silence…I tell them you are never alone in what you’re going to do. Being alone is the easiest way to get in a dark spot.”

“I want to help people before they are where I was at and do that leap,” he said.

Karen Cousins, program director for NAMI Franklin County and a NAMI Ohio board member, has worked closely with Walker to help him get out his story.

“He works at the Ending the Silence program where he goes to schools and he talks with police crisis teams. He wants to tell people what he’s gone through so he can help others,” Cousins said. “Everybody doesn’t get that second chance.”

“I think he was spared to be an advocate,” she continued. “He understands his illness. When people hear his story, it’s like “if he can do it, maybe I can give it a shot’”

Born in New York City, Walker’s family moved to Ohio when he was an infant, settling in the Hilliard area. He said he had poor social skills and experienced difficulty relating to others beginning at a young age. After high school, he attended Heidelberg University in Tiffin, but did not graduate.

By 2012, Walker was suffering from deepening depression and, although he didn’t know what it was at the time, his schizoaffective disorder was kicking in with accompanying voices in his head, delusions and hallucinations. His delusions were frighteningly real; he believed a co-worker was Jesus and imagined the tendons were being ripped out of his body.

He was hospitalized several times, went to a drug rehabilitation program, having lied to his parents that he was using drugs when he wasn’t. It was easier, he thought at the time, than telling them what was really going on in his head.

For four agonizing years, Walker went without medication, struggling through relationships with his family and friends, bouncing between jobs, and at one point becoming homeless. While his recollections of those years is hazy, Walker knows he was maced after an altercation in a bar, and later suffered a psychotic break from reality.

Finally, in 2016, Walker was prescribed an anti-psychotic medication that worked for him, beginning a recovery journey that continues to this day. Through it all, his family was tolerant, enduring and patient because as Walker puts it “they didn’t know what was going on either and after each delusion/episode my family continued to support me.”

While medication helped, Walker credits a song by the British musical group Mumford & Sons with helping him bring clarity and focus to his life. “It spoke to me, word for word. I still listen to it today.”

“The Cave” says in part:

 And I will hold on hope and I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck
And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again