Texoma residents gave an update on their person struggles with mental illness, substance abuse and addiction this week as part of the Community Behavioral Health Conference. The event included talks and updates by three individuals who spoke last year in an effort to give a local voice and face to the concept of mental illness.
The local stories ranged from accounts of battles with alcoholism to the challenges of growing up with autism.
“At last year’s conference, we heard from some local people who live right here — their real stories,” Ginger Nye, who served as master of ceremonies for the conference, said. “We called it, “In Our Own Backyard.”
Five years clean
For Lisa Shields, 2018 proved to be a difficult year and for the second time in nearly five years, she felt the temptation to drink again. Her son needed extensive surgery that required a four-week stay in the hospital and could lead to a two-year recovery.
Yet despite the temptation to drink, Shields celebrated her fifth year of sobriety this past November.
“The urge, the struggle, is always right there ready to pounce if you are too bored, too happy, too depressed or anything,” she said.
During last year’s conference, Shields opened up about her fight with alcoholism, which she said nearly took her life. Shields’ addiction progressed to the point that she was living almost entirely on alcohol until she checked herself into the hospital in late 2013.
“I think they (people) think mental illness and addiction are two different things,” she said. “They often go hand in hand, but people don’t see that.”
Shields previously said she had suffered most of her life with anxiety and panic attacks. Her symptoms began to increase following the death of her brother due to substance abuse in her early 20s.
“Instead of turning to the Lord, I turned to the bottle,” she said Thursday.
When medication stopped easing the symptoms, Shields said she turned to alcohol for relief. Looking back, Shields said in 2018 that the medication likely didn’t work because it was fighting against alcohol — a natural depressant.
The alcoholism continued to progress to the point that Shields said she would drink throughout the day, including while at work.
“Wine and beer turned to vodka and I was totally oblivious,” she said. “I was slowly but surely killing myself and I simply didn’t care.”
Since Shields told her story during the 2018 conference, she has spoken and worked to support women who have approached her with similar stories of addiction.
“A lot of women have reached out telling me they felt I was telling their story,” she said.
Shields said she was approached by the organizers of the event about helping this year and gladly accepted the opportunity.
“This is the most amazing event because it is so important to our community,” she said.
Living with autism
Jake Thornton, who spoke about his life with autism last year, said he has completed his studies at Grayson College over the past year and is now looking to continue his education and find a full-time job. However, 2018 also came with difficulties, he said.
“I believe with all mental health illnesses, there are highs and lows with each diagnosis,” he said.
In April, Thornton said he started hearing voices and had struggles with a new medication that was having negative effects on him.
“I contemplated suicide, but raged against that word,” he said.
Thornton had a similar episode in October, but immediately sought help. During these episodes, Thornton said he was reminded of Kevin Hines, who spoke of his attempted suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge during 2018’s conference, and his slogan of “Be here tomorrow.”
Thornton was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old. In high school, Thornton took up the sport of running, despite the sensory issues that come with it. As of this year, Thornton said he has completed two marathons.
Thornton graduated from Grayson College in December and plans to seek a degree in computer science from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this year and update you all about my life since it allows me to become a stronger advocate for myself and those who cannot speak,” he said.
Helping those in need
For Colt Floyd, 2018 saw a reversal of roles in many ways. When he spoke at the event last year, Floyd told his story of how the North Texas Veterans Court helped him overcome addiction. Now, he is helping other veterans fight their own addictions as a case manager.
Floyd was the first person to enroll and graduate from the court program following a series of arrests for driving while intoxicated. Through the program, Floyd was able to seek treatment for the post traumatic stress disorder that led him to alcoholism.
At 2018’s conference, Floyd said he was involved in about 450 fire fights over a 300-day period and had 10 blast exposures. Upon returning home, Floyd was prescribed nine separate medications to threat medical conditions related to his service. Despite the medication, Floyd turned to alcohol as a way to cope.
Floyd decided to take part in the veterans court program following his third arrest for DWI. The program saw Floyd spend 60 days in jail, but ultimately kept him from serving prison time.
“Once I did address it and make myself transparent of the problem going on, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said in 2018.
After his talk last year, Floyd said he was approached by Judge John Roach Jr. about speaking to veterans in the program.
Following a series of talks, Floyd said the judge pulled him aside and told him about the case manager position that was available. Floyd applied for the position and was hired in July.