All posts by Brenda Pamperin

What’s Next

Wow! Can you believe this ride has come to an end? For the last week, it felt like we would never get to St. Augustine. Even this morning, I was thinking – “Man, we still have 32 miles.” But, we finally arrived and all our family and friends were gathered.

I would like to thank my fellow Road Warriors – Allen, Lynn, Ed, Casey, Rich Ryan, Bill, Brenda, Matt and Penny. The ride would not have been the same without our wonderful support from Big Mike, Michele, Peter, Lynn and Bill.

Also, I want to thank all of you for reading our blogs and cheering us on.
Although we have finished our journey, may the Awareness continue!

I asked Pastor Brad, my minister and friend, to write his experience with mental illness. I would like to close my blog with his thoughts:

“I never understood mental illness until I found myself at the Regional Treatment Center In Fergus Falls, Minnesota, during the summer of 1990. I was a seminary student, embarking on an educational experience called C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education). Basically, I was a student chaplain for the summer at one of Minnesota’s State Psychiatric Hospitals. And what an experience it was. I ministered in a locked unit of 18-40 year olds dealing with intense mental health concerns. After leading worship, visiting, conducting bible studies, and learning greatly from the psychiatric nurses, counselors and doctors, my pastoring would never be the same again. In the midst of trying numerous medications (to see what would work) and behavior modification, I experienced first hand the struggle and sometimes the hopelessness of trying to keep the clients stable and healthy. But this was just the beginning of my mental health journey.

My C.P.E supervisor told me that no one would ever admit this, but there would be a small percentage of my church members who would be struggling with mental health issues. Small? How about more than expected? Whether its anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or paranoia or delusional thinking, I am constantly working with individuals and supporting frustrated, ashamed and desperate families who endure the mental health cycle each day. Yes, I have learned the litany of medications such as lithium, wellbutrin, paxil, clonopin, saraquill and many others. Yes, I have learned that when people feel good, they may not see the need to take their meds, as the downward spiral begins. Yes, I have learned that emergency mental health services can be effective, but community based mental health care can sometimes be sketchy and wait times long to be seen and evaluated especially for the poor and indigent. And yes, I have learned to intervene and calm down mental health meltdowns. I am extremely grateful to be a part of a congregation that takes mental health care seriously through welcome, counseling and support groups. In the prayers of the church we are always praying for individuals and families who daily walk the “mental health tightrope.”

But the stigma still continues. Many in our communities still do not understand those with “diseases of the mind” and that they need care and concern. I pray for the day that there is more understanding. I pray for the day that our country will clammer for a comprehensive mental health policy. I pray for the day that many will receive training on how to help those who are hurting and tormented. I pray for the day that people with mental health concerns will not be ostracized/judged, but welcomed into all aspects of community living.

I am only a simple parish pastor, but I have learned a lot about the mental health journey. Thank so much to Brenda, and all the other riders who have so unselfishly given their time to place mental health care to the forefront with their “Ride Across America.”

Thank You!

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Get Up and Go

Our day off in Gainesville was probably the most rewarding experience I have had this entire trip. It started with our visit with the NAMI folks.

We were welcomed with open arms. One woman relayed her experience bringing her story to the schools. This is a program used by other NAMIs nationwide, which Gainesville is trying to build.

I also had a chance to ask someone about visiting with Veterans. She immediately pulled out her phone and sent an email to two potential contacts. (More on this later.)

So after returning to the hotel, I took Uber to the V.A. Hospital. As I approached the entrance, I was befriended by a 76 year old man who was waiting for his ride home and we had a nice chat.

I finally went inside, but really didn’t know what to do next. Ultimately, I went to Starbucks for a chai tea latte and chocolate chip muffin.

The lobby was full of people waiting to be seen, so I took a seat and started up a conversation with a couple. He served in the Navy for 12 years and she served for 6 years.

The conversation turned to Ride to Awareness, and soon the circle of people waiting around us joined in. One man was from St Augustine. His wife could not come with him because she needed to stay home with their 30+ year old son, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia paranoia.

Finally, the patient’s numbers were called, and the group broke up. They had already spent a long time waiting to be seen.

It seemed like it was time to move on to my next priority for the day – a pedicure! I goggled nail salons, and located one 2.5 miles away. Off I strolled on a beautiful, sunny day. Even splurged with a Deluxe Pedicure that included sea salt!

Before I knew it, it was time to head to my next appointment. (Remember the email sent from the NAMI event?)

I received a call earlier in the day from Nancy Maas. She is a social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and works at The Honors Center for Veterans. She invited me to visit the facility.

Wow! The literature she gave me describes it as “a 45-bed rehabilitation treatment program dedicated to meeting the medical and mental health needs of Veterans who are currently homeless, displaced, or at risk of homelessness. Services are tailored to fit Veterans’ recovery.”

I was blown away by this place, which is the only one of its kind! First, Nancy and I had a chance to get to know each other. This was followed by a tour.

Kitchen for cooking classes
Kitchen for cooking classes
Collection of musical instruments
Collection of musical instruments
Nancy and their collection of bikes
Nancy and their collection of bikes
Letters written to Veterans from 1st graders
Letters written to Veterans from 1st graders

The residents have a complete array of services to aid in their recovery. Some activities include cooking classes, gardening, music therapy (After 6 lessons, they get to keep the instrument.) They have a library with computers. Their was a recent visit by a Garden Club.

Of course, my personal favorite is a program called “Bikes 4 Vets”. Bikes that are donated are used as transportation. It turns out the woman who introduced this idea was there. They regularly have clinics on bike repair.

We made our way to the cafeteria, and Nancy introduced me to the residents. It felt wonderful to thank them for their service and to talk about the Ride. After I finished speaking, I invited them to spoke to me.

Would you believe, about 6 or 7 people came over? They were so thankful for my visit. A few had questions about the trip. One guy rides about 40 miles a day.

Looking around the room, their was so much humility mixed with honor and I could feel the love, care and respect they had for each other. You can see the determination to recover and the return of self-love and purpose.

A few residents took a few candids of me, and I think I may be in their next Newsletter. They gave me a few month’s issues to read before I left.

Again, Wow! I got to the hotel room, after joining the RTA team for dinner, and started to read their latest issue.

The residents publish the Newsletter called, The Residents Honor. The first thing you see is the mission statement.

“Our core mission is to serve the domiciliary residents and administrators by bringing the image of Veterans to a positive light as well as bringing awareness to our steps to change through the writings of residence. Our newsletter is written by residents of the DOM and residents who have transitioned out, and we are an ever-evolving newsletter. We believe in the following:

POSITIVITY
-Humor and Entertainment
-Catching people doing the right thing
SUPPORT RECOVERY
-Recognition and pride
-Sense of purpose and belonging
RESIDENTS HAVE A VOICE
-Welcomes all skill levels and styles of expression
-Outlet to express respectful opinions
COMMUNITY OUTREACH
-Bring light to the positive image of veterans
WORKING TOGETHER
-Allow mistakes

The newsletter has pictures from activities like an annual Veterans Bass Tournament, a rained out kayaking trip which instead resulted in the residents getting valuable information from former residents who had transitioned out of the DOM, and a talent show. One man wrote that his son just informed him he was going to be a Grand Daddy of twins, and included the sonogram. Another submitted two poems he wrote. There was one who wrote about the history of Veterans Day.

The best one was called “Shout Outs”. The man spent 20 years in prison. Upon his release, he states he was lost! Since he came to the Honor Center, he is making great strides. He went on to list all the staff members who have made a difference in his life and to thank them for always going the extra mile.

He wrote that they regularly give Shout Outs during their 7:45 a.m. morning session called, Get Up and Go!

These men and women average about 3-4 months at the DOM. There is about a 85% success rate after they leave.

I wish all of you could visit this facility for yourself. It will make you want to Get Up and Go too!

Beauty Tips

Today Lynn and I had Mike take a picture of us wearing clothes from Title 9, a women’s athletic apparel store. They have a promotion that if you tweet a photo you have a chance to win money. I look at it as a way to hashtag Ride To Awareness.

Styling in our Title Nine apparel
Styling in our Title Nine apparel

Throughout this trip, we have referred to Lynn as Audrey Hepburn. Her poise and character remind us of this iconic actress.

I am so thankful to have gotten to know Lynn and to share this journey. In today’s blog, I want to share these Beauty Tips that have been linked with Audrey Hepburn, for this is true beauty.

Time Tested Beauty Tips

For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.

For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.

For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.

For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.

For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.

People, even more than things, have to be restored, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find them at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.

The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.

The beauty of a woman is not in her facial mole, but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows.

The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.

-Sam Levenson

Sink Hole

Yesterday, Lynn told you about our visit to the Blue Hole Springs at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. It was only a mile from our camping spot for the night.

While I am always up for adventures on the ride, I was extremely hungry and could feel my blood sugar drop.

So I sent Lynn and Ed ahead while I sat on the side of the trail with my back to a tree. After a short time, two women walked by and asked where we were riding. (They had passed the others on the trail.)

This led to a conversation about Ride To Awareness. Both women immediately expressed their appreciation for our endeavor and the need to help individuals and their families.

As you know, many people have shared their story with me. The one lady relayed to me that a friend had lost a son and a daughter to suicide within 44 days of each other. This just happened earlier this year.

She went on to say the parents are divorced, and the mother is getting treatment for cancer. Apparantly the grandmother didn’t even acknowledge the children because both of them were gay.

The women continued on their way and thanked me for what we were doing. I then noticed a text from Lynn, beckoning me to join them at the Spring. So I road down to meet them, but my mind was on my hunger and on what the woman had told me.

With all the stories I have heard, this one really made me weary. The details just sunk my spirits and I suddenly wished I had not heard it.

I will always remember sitting next to my grandma after the death of my aunt. I could hear her sobs, as she mourned the death of her child…

Devil's Millhopper State Park
Devil’s Millhopper State Park

Today we stopped at the Devil’s Millhopper State Park to visit a sink hole. My thoughts went again to the mother who lost her two children.

It also made me think that a sink hole is a perfect analogy for someone who is affected by mental illness (either the individual or the family). Please keep this mother in your prayers as she tries to climb out of her own sink hole.

Thank A Veteran!

Had a chance to visit with these Veterans today
Had a chance to visit with these Veterans today
So much history from these Veterans
So much history from these Veterans
Earl Mills, 101st Airborne, Grand Marshall and true Hero
Earl Mills, 101st Airborne, Grand Marshall and true Hero

The fire department recently sent out information on what Fairfax will do to recognize Veterans Day. The email also included a brief history about this day.

“While many realize that Veterans Day, which always falls on November 11, is a day to honor our veterans, few realize the historical significance behind the day. Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day and marked the end of hostilities of World War I that occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. Therefore, the day is always recognized on November 11, regardless of the day of the week the 11th falls on. The day was originally set aside to honor the Veterans of World War I with a day of parades and remembrances as well as a pause in activities at 11a.m. on that day. In 1938, it was made a legal federal holiday for all. Today, many cities celebrate Veterans Day with parades and ceremonies. Americans are encouraged to say thank you to those who fulfill this patriotic duty to maintain the freedoms of our country.”

Today we participated in another parade. It was not like the festive one from Saturday. It was much more reserved. However, it had greater meaning to me. It was an honor to show our respect to our Veterans in this way and to be a part of the Veterans Day Parade in Live Oak, FL.

The connection of military to mental illness may not be obvious to some, but this is exactly why our presence was so important.

Many veterans experience PTSD and depression and suicide rates are 50% higher than non-military. They are more likely to follow up their suicidal thoughts with a suicidal plan.

In 2012, 6500 former military personnel killed themselves. More veterans succumbed to suicide than were killed in Iraq. That same year, 177 active-duty soldiers committed suicide, whereas 176 soldiers were killed in combat.

Thankfully, the military is very familiar with this phenomenon. I suspect there are many programs through Veterans Affairs and the Wounded Warrior Project.

The military culture is very different from civilian life. Imagine how difficult it must be for a soldier to return to a “normal” life. A recent example is in the crically acclaimed movie, American Sniper.

I don’t have any answers, just like there is no easy solution to mental illness for all those affected. However, I would like to end this blog with this link to an interesting article:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-aiello/colateral-damage-effects_b_8226542.html