Member Stories

LOOKING FOR TREASURES – By Jim Davis, Prelude Clubhouse

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I was stricken with depression in mid-life, and was hospitalized three times for forty days each. By my calculation, that was three times as long as Noah was in the ark. I had some inheritance before becoming ill, but the money started flowing out fast to pay for huge hospital bills, psychiatrist charges, expensive medication and other bills. I had no Social Security, disability insurance, or other source of funds. This was decades before insurance companies would touch those with mental conditions. “Pre-existing conditions” they were called. I found a one room apartment with no furniture. I was unable to live in my own house with my wife and precious kids. I sat in a corner and shivered when I did see them, even with warm clothes on in the summer. I was sick, and I didn’t know what to do. I was told that my shaking and Tourettes syndrome was making my children fearful of me, so we separated. I went to Sam’s Club and purchased a twin mattress and a radio. No television! I slept on the mattress on the floor.

My wife had struggled to keep the family together. Eventually it became hopeless. We divorced and she moved to another state to enter graduate school. I don’t blame her. She tried for years to help me recover. I felt a failure as a father, worker, and spouse. Fortunately, I found a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill support group. Members shared experiences, nurtured each other, and formed friendships which have lasted a lifetime. Everyone was welcome, and we encouraged each other to work toward recovery, even though sometimes it seemed hopeless. We saw some of our members make one step forward, then two steps backward, or vice versa.

The health care system failed many of us on many occasions. The doctor of one of my best friends decided to experiment with my friend’s medication. To my surprise, the doctor took my friend off what I had read was a vital medication for his condition. My friend confided in me that he feared the suicidal thoughts which became increasingly numerous. Who was I to question that doctor, but what he did was what I understood to be medically wrong for my friend. Within a week my friend went to confession before his priest, then went home and hanged himself.

I have seen other doctors over the years make stupid mistakes experimenting with medicine. At one time, my doctor prescribed one Prozac per day which began to help ease my depression. I moved to another city where my new psychiatrist, right out of school, said a more aggressive approach to my depression was needed. He increased my dose of Prozac from one per day to five per day. Within a few days I passed out experiencing a grand mal seizure. That doctor put me in the hospital for forty days, trying all sorts of medications. Nothing he tried worked, and when I was released, I had to move in with my father for him to take care of me. I was much sicker when I got out than when I went in with that seizure. In counseling with that doctor before he increased my Prozac, I mentioned that I had received an inheritance. To my surprise he asked, how much? Psychiatrists have a lot of power over patients. Normally I would not have told him, but he asked & I answered. He knew I had some money, and I believe he used me as a guinea pig to run up my hospital and doctor bills. When I received the final bill, I was astounded! I knew a lot of doctors in that town through the church I attended. They spread the word what the new doctor did, and he had to move to a different city. I was told that I could have sued him, but my mind was in no position to remember what had happened, much less make a case against him.

Another friend was taken off a different but important medication. I feared what he might do, also. Weeks later my friend had the bad judgement to kidnap his young daughter, taking her with him to another state. When he was caught, after trial, he was sent to the federal prison.

I read, studied everything about the medicines, and faithfully attended my support group. My mental illness and what it had done to my marriage, my friends and my family scared the hell out of me! Information learned in that NAMI group and elsewhere literally saved my life. I read every book I could find on mental illness, even the psychiatry textbook used in medical schools.

Although I found a low-paying job at a small library (without telling anyone of my mental condition), I was barely making it financially & trying to pay down that hospital bill and send some money to my kids.

I began to shop at garage sales and yard sales for used clothing and other items. It was a new experience for me. I came to love it. I think it made me become outgoing again, reaching out to others, and meeting new people. When I approached, the person in charge of the sale, I was often asked, “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

       “Yes,” I replied. “Treasures.” Many people looked over what they considered their worn-out junk and laughed at me.

I met people who had emigrated to our country from all over the world. For pennies, I was able to buy unique things which I displayed in my library. Rarely did I spend over five dollars per weekend.

When I was able and the price was right, I would buy gifts for others. I like books and found books appropriate for children and students in high school getting ready for college.

My favorite book for the very young child was Goodnight Moon. I believe the author was Margaret Wise Brown. I have bought more than 50 copies of the book over my 45 years of searching (for 50 cents to a dollar apiece). I gave a copy to each future mother I met at yard sales expecting their first child. The book, better than any other children’s book, has a way of relaxing the newborn or small child. The words are so calming that most children fall asleep in their mother’s arms as the story is being read to them. It creates a sense of peace and safety for the child.

For the adult reader, I buy dozens of copies of the paperback Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, (I can’t stand the title but the book is filled with great information on learning to understand and better get along with people). This book was a gift from my U.S. Congressman, Wright Patman. He bought 10,000 copies, one for each graduating senior in his congressional district. I have read it at least ten times and taken Carnegie’s Sales Course.

The billionaire, Warren Buffett, has college degrees and honorary degrees from several universities. What hangs on his wall in his office is his Dale Carnegie Certificate, not the degrees or plaques.

       When I read it, I thought it was the best book I had ever read about understanding others and learning to get along. Only later, after a serious hospitalization and bout of depression did I find what proved to be a better book in my recovery. I heard an advertisement from Dallas Cowboy Coach Tom Landry talking about “The Book: An Updated Translation of the Bible.” I purchased it on January 15, 1988, at a very low point in my life. The official title was The Book: A Special Edition of The Living Bible, “A thought for thought translation of the original Hebrew and Greek texts, word for word”. The ideas were expressed here as ordinary people in our times would say them, with our idioms, word-pictures and expressions.

       I read it daily from beginning to end twice, then went back, highlighted and typed all of the quotes and their locations which helped me. The Book greatly helped my depression and feelings of failure to gradually fade away. It gave me so much power to know what the Bible was saying to me. Not what a televangelist on TV or a well-meaning Christian friend said was wrong with me, and what I needed to do to get over my depression and change.

         I go back to The Book time and again. The cover and binding are worn and the book is held together by duct tape. Of all of my books, it is my treasure and it is never far from my desk.

         Other great books which I buy as gifts include:

The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers,

A Brilliant Madness by Patty Duke (her story of her bipolar illness),

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey,

The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino,

The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey,

The Boy Scout Handbook, and –The Girl Scout Handbook.

       At one neighbor’s sale, a charming elderly woman from Argentina displayed many interesting items from a land I had never seen. She asked, “Is there anything in particular you are looking for?” “Of course,” I replied. “Treasures!” She looked around her interesting items, then said, “It looks like I am the only treasure around here!”

“Of course you are!” I replied.

       Paraphrasing the words of a wise man, “Yard sales are like a walk on the beach: You never know what you are going to find or what delightful people you will meet!”

       The best thing about the sales, from my point of view are the people. These people, many who have come from other parts of the world for a better life here, bring not only items of interest, but more important, a willingness to work dangerous and low paying jobs which most of us born in America would not accept.

       When I meet these people, I often surprise them when I say, “Thank you for coming to my country. From my 70 years of obser-vation, you who were born elsewhere and chose to come here are the hardest working, most appreciative, and most patriotic citizens we have!”

Many say that no one in America has ever expressed that to them. Often, they are told to get out of our country, and go back home. “You are not welcome here!”

One man I met, Eduardo from Ecuador, broke down in tears after I thanked him. He said, ‘Last Tuesday was the proudest day of my life. It was the day I became a U.S. citizen. Had I stayed in Ecuador, I have no doubt that I would be dead by now!”

My search for treasures has taught me that our greatest treasures are our people. Most work hard, help others, and try to make a better world for their children.

-by Jim Davis, May 23, 2017.

Jim can be found looking for treasures in Collin County, Texas where he is the volunteer librarian for NAMI in Plano and an active member of Prelude Clubhouse which meets in McKinney.