Saturday, December 3, 2011

An Expert on Recovery ~ living a life to its fullest with a mental illness

I want to introduce you to one of my heroes. The story of Harold Jarboe's life inspires me each day to never give up hope. No one can be around Harold without feeling energized by his positive enthusiasm and zest for life. I am proud to know Harold and am honored that he wanted to share his "story of recovery" on my Blog.

Several years ago, Harold and I discussed my creating a website to help educate people about Assisted Outpatient Treatment, AOT. We talked about how some people who are surviving mental illness do not understand the need for AOT. One of the biggest misconceptions of AOT is that individuals are going to be forced to do something against their will. My conclusion regarding AOT is the lack of accessibility to housing, treatment and other resources for persons with mental illness, result in homelessness, incarceration or death. Harold's response was, "If I had not received assistance in the beginning of my journey, I would not be where I am today." Harold supports helping others learn more about the need for AOT in Kentucky.

My question to others who oppose AOT: Is it more humane to help a person over the bridge ... so they can gain access to "recovery" ... or allow them to waste their life? Read Harold's story and you decide. GG Burns, KY Mental Health Advocate

My name is H
arold Jarboe and I would like to share my successful story of recovery. It is my story of HOPE and resiliency.

Twenty-nine years ago, shackled like a wild animal, I was brought to the second oldest psychiatric hospital in the United States. The name of the hospital was Eastern State Hospital (ESH) in Lexington, Kentucky. I was in the throes of my first manic episode. I had lost control of my behavior, was in constant trouble and had even been arrested. It was like living in a horrible nightmare and I did not understand what was happening.

Since that time I have been hospitalized 9 times for manic episodes of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a chronic
brain disease like diabetes, lupus or cardiovascular disease. It can start at anytime in a person's life and is a lifelong illness. It is not curable but is treatable with medications and psychotherapy. Many famous people live with bipolar disorder and have productive and successful lives. All those years ago I was too sick to understand that I even had an illness. I felt trapped. No one understood my situation.

In 1986 I found myself being transported, handcuffed, in the back of a police car again. Now I was homeless. What would I do? After 3 months I was discharged from ESH and went to a boarding home where I lived for over a year. It was just one small room but it was better than living in a cardboard box. During this time I often thought of suicide and wanted to end my miserable existence. I
was depressed and lonely. I wanted to die to escape my pain. At times I was so horrified by the turmoil going on in my mind that I was not capable of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I had no hope. It was very challenging living in a large city, being so young, and dealing with a major mental illness with so few supports.

I finally decided to stay in treatment and realized that it was important to find the right medications. I tried living alone and on my own in an efficiency apartment for about a month. Later, I lived with roommates in a house owned by Mrs. Cruse. Attending individual therapy classes and having the support of Mrs. Cruse was a crucial turning point in my life. Later a counselor who worked at the Hope Center helped me find a job at Kroger. Next I moved into a supervised apartment program (SAP). I graduated from many programs because I wanted to get well. I hated being locked up
, so I had to find a better way to live. The revolving door was not for me.

Had it not been for these programs and the assistance of people who believed in me, I might still be homeless today. Individual therapy helped me overcome my anxiety, my anger and other emotional challenges. It has all been worth it because I now feel relaxed and comfortable around people. I can now express my own personality. It feels so good.

Fast forward to 2011. My recovery has been an incredible journey; one full of many twists and turns. With the help of medications and therapy I have learned to live with a brain disorder. I know how to stay out of the hospital and have become a productive member of society. I always take my medicine and especially get enough sleep. I knew I needed to take responsibility for myself. I had dreams and told myself that I could never g
ive up. I realized that I had to work hard and no one could do it for me.

Many people refuse to take medication for bipolar disorder due to excessive weight gain. I went to
Weight Watchers® and learned how to eat healthy. I lost 40 pounds and know how to keep it off. I am a 19-month free lifetime member of the Weight Watchers program. I also smoked heavily for 13 years. With the help of the Cooper Clayton Method, I have not smoked in the past 16 years.

I feel so blessed every day. I have come a million miles in learning about my own recovery. One of my most proud accomplishments is that I have been hospitalized only once in the last nineteen years. I love my life and feel happy, productive and am glad to share my story with oth
ers. I do not drink alcohol or use drugs, but I do love to party. I am high on life and who needs more? I have worked at Kroger for 22 years and my financial situation is sound. The best part of my life is my wonderful wife, Angel. We have been married for 12 years. She is my angel! Her love and support mean everything to me. We just purchased our first home and really enjoy being homeowners.

I have learned the importance of giving back. I visit and give gifts to the elderly, cook special dishes for friends and volunteer as a photographer for a non-profit organization called the National Alliance on Mental Illness, (NAMI). I am also very honored to serve on the
NAMI Lexington board, the past 3 years.

I am happy, optimistic, enthusiastic, energetic and confident about my future.
I often say, "I am the happiest man alive."

My dream is for our society to accept that mental illness is just like other diseases. People diagnosed with mental illness are just like me. We are not a "mentally ill man" or a "schizophrenic woman." We would never label a person dying of cancer as a "cancerous" man or woman. My dream is for everyone who has a mental illness to be able to access treatment and housing, as I have been blessed to do. It seems horrible to know that now more people with mental illnesses live in jails and prisons than in other places.

Recovery is a life long journey, but it is possible.

My motto is: "Every day is a holiday, every meal is a feast and every night is New Year's Eve." We all need to work together to overcome the stigma of mental illness.

Published and produced by friends of the: Change Mental Health Laws in Kentucky Project, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED!


  1. As someone who met Harold when he was just beginning his recovery journey, I can honestly say it has been inspirational to watch him flourish over the last 20 years....the assistance given to him, just the seeds for the garden......but he is the REAL gardner....through his inner resilence, good decision making and intrinsic motivation....he has become the walking, talking epitomy of the word, recovery!.........Kudos to You, Mr Jarboe...Kudos to You!!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story Harold. I'm hopeful my daughter's journey with mental illness will take the positive turn yours did.

  3. I think it's wonderful that you are willing to share your story with others. It's very encouraging and I thank you for it.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. People need to hear that true recovery is possible. To see someone who's been through some very, very difficult and painful periods, come through with such a grateful giving spirit, and happiness, is just so great to see. Your story will be an encouragement to more than you can possibly imagine, I'm sure of it.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Harold. I share your dream for an end to the stigma surrounding mental illness and for everyone to have access to treatment.

    Your story will stay with me and help me to always remain positive as I continue to help my loved one achieve recovery. I will keep my eye on the light you have shown us :-). God bless you. I wish you a wonderful holiday in your new home with your Angel.

  6. wayne said harold you are one of my very best friends and i am very honored and blessed to be your friend i know you have been through a lot and you are a stronger person for it , party on harold

  7. Wow, I am very proud of you Harold. I am so inspired by your testimony. By the way this is Bill who worked with you at Kroger. Take care and continue being the inspiration you are now.

  8. We are all so proud of Harold. Nobody would really choose homelessness and misery. People with brain function intact tend to think of others as "THEM" but it is "US." ANY of us can get a problem compromising brain function, and it is scary to think if that happens - and we don't know something is wrong... WE could be where Harold used to be.

    Health care focused on WELLNESS with integrated, wrap-around care should be our right.

    But hey Harold... you may be the happiest *man" alive, but sometimes I certainly feel like the happiest *woman* alive!

  9. For another look @ how someone with serious illness's of the brain please Google "World is Dimmed". All post made by Coverup & the last comment #42 Tells the system & many others failed a human being reaching & crying out for help. This has got to stop. Harold I am happy for you & hope many will be inspired by your story as I have. Sincerely, Julie