If you suggest to Chris Tigner that he’s a mental health success story, he’s more likely to tell you he’s a work in progress.
“I never look at myself as being more advanced than others. We’re all in this together. My journey is not over,” the 33-year-old Perry County resident said. “That makes me push that much harder. I try to encourage people every day that you can live with mental illness.”
Tigner, who lives in News Straitsville in southern Perry County, struggled with a brain disorder that showed up in a fixation on his body imagine. While he always appeared to be in good shape to others, Tigner considered himself too heavy, and was constantly exercising and starving himself to lose weight. The disorder turned into anorexia, at one point resulting in hospitalization. He was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with anxiety and depression issues.
When he was released from the hospital, Tigner was referred to Allwell Behavior Health Services in New Lexington where he has been a client now for eight years.
“When I started, I really didn’t think much of it. I said, ‘I’ll try this out and see what it’s like.’ At first, I wasn’t to too hip to the idea. I just went because I had doctor’s orders. After a while, I became more open minded and got involved in day treatment and group therapy.”
Tigner’s persistence paid off and he soon found himself wanting to help others dealing with brain disorders and the stigma that frequently accompanies them. He got involved in a recovery summit in Zanesville and more recently started a similar event in Perry County. He also volunteers as a peer specialist to help others.
As a long-time drummer in various bands, Tigner uses his musical experience to help with classes and events, including music therapy.
“A big driving force behind the things I’ve done has been my faith,” Tigner added. “About the same time I got out of the hospital and started my recovery journey I started going back to church.”
“This is one of life’s journeys. Once you start this, you’ve got to stay on that track and keep going.”
Paul Quinn, executive director of NAMI Six County, praised Tigner as an active peer counselor and a “high visibility advocate for mental health.”
Success stories like Tigner’s are important because they “show people that recovery is possible,” Quinn said. “A lot of people have the perception that if you have a brain disorder, they disregard you. These stories dispel some of those myths and help the public see they’re not that much different than anyone else.”
Quinn, who also teaches college courses, said he sees progress in the fight against the stigma of mental health disorders. In the past, when he discussed the topic with his classes, few if any students acknowledged they or someone in their family experienced mental health issues. Recently, 21 of 22 students said publicly they had personal experience with brain disorders, Quinn said.
“Ignorance is still alive and well, but the stigma is lessening,” Quinn said. “I know for a fact it is.”