May 06, 2013

By Eric Ward

I was in my early 30s with three small children that depended upon me, when I lost my well-paying job. I went on COBRA insurance, but it quickly ran out. I was paying cash for my therapist, psychiatrist and for my prescriptions. Then my money was completely gone. I was losing my home and my therapist told me that he could not ethically take my money anymore. I was devastated. I had nowhere to turn.

I was obviously nonfunctional at the time, as opposed to now where I am considered high functional, but my therapist gave me his email and told me that I could communicate with him via email for free. To sum it up in a few words; he saved me.

I didn’t have the money for phone, computer or internet, but once a week I would ride my garage sale bike to my local library and email my therapist.

This was the hardest time of my life and I needed help.

I applied for social security and was denied again and again. I even lowered my head and walked into my local welfare office. For a proud father, this was the hardest thing that I have ever done. I obviously was doing the paper work wrong. I filled out the forms but my mind was scattered. I tried talking to the over-worked workers, and I know I made no sense. Obviously, I didn’t get anywhere at my local welfare office.

It wasn’t due to the people that work in the office, or even the system. It was due to the fact that I desperately needed help. I needed someone who understood me and my mental condition. Someone who could help me get things in order, help me with the paper work and help me fill out the forms.

I ended up ridding my bicycle around the small towns in my area looking for cans to turn into food money. I would use old plastic garbage bags and pick up cans, cash them in, and then go to the dollar store and buy food for my kids. (I’ll say also it is very hard to ride a bike and not get the plastic bag caught in your spokes!) I survived off of potatoes that the dollar store would sell.

Through all of my mess, my therapist, Conrad Nordquest, was by my side. During the holidays I was desperate for money to buy my children gifts. I was going to sell my bicycle. He told me not to do so because it was my only form of therapy that was working. Conrad told me just to wait and something good will happen. It did, one night I had a knock on my door and it was some stranger. He asked if I was Eric Ward. I of course panicked. I had been off my meds and my schizophrenia and OCD were in full swing. The strange man at my door gave me an envelope and then quickly walked away. When I cautiously opened the envelope it had $200 in it. Even though my therapist would never admit to it I knew that the money was from him. He was the only one that knew of my dire circumstances. Anyway, I was able to buy my children presents.

But more than providing some money, my therapist was kind enough to take a personal interest in me. He would respond to my emails and council me through this very dark time. He got me an appointment with a top local psychiatrist, Dr. Jackson. Dr. Jackson did not charge me any money and did a full psych evaluation. He helped me file the paper work for social security and even gave me free samples of antipsychotic medications. I was approved for social security, and from that moment on it’s been “all downhill” (which is great for a bike rider!)

Since that time, I’ve been able to start my own business, traded my garage sale bike for a new road bike, and have been in over 70 bike races and multiple charity rides. With a new business and three girls to keep me on my toes, I find time to cycle as often as I can. The sport allows me to clear my mind for some time, focusing only on what lies about 15 to 20 feet in front of me. For me, being on a bike is beyond exhilarating. It allows me to let go, gives me some great alone-time and helps me stay fit and sharp.

Of course there are still difficult times, and proper medications and therapy is an ongoing process, but I will never give up! I will never stop, and I owe my success to my therapist and psychiatrist. None of this would have been possible without them by my side, and my wish for everyone is that you have someone, just one person like these two men, there to help and support you.

As humans, it is important that when we see someone on the street, falling on hard times or just in a bad-off spot, that we realize this person may not know how, or may be totally unable, to get that help that is available to them. We need to help, and there are many things, even small things that we can do; at this moment and all the time. We can start by making it a priority to support the charities that are there for people in their time of need. Volunteering is every bit as appreciated as financial support, and as a cyclist and walker I know NAMIBikes and NAMIWalks organizers love seeing me and my family in attendance! If you have the means to support financially than please do. Take a stand! Be a champion and remind people that a mental illness diagnosis is every bit as real as a diagnosis of cancer. Treatment is available and recovery is possible. Fight stigma!

What I want to say is that if I did not have these two people around to help me I would have been homeless. I would have lost my children. I would have lost my life. We cannot turn a blind eye to those in need of help, and there are so many things we can do to help each other.

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