Thirty Two year old Thomas enters the room with a contagious smile and immense willingness to share… and there is a lot to tell. Thomas has lived a life of ups and downs with his mental health and eventually found his purpose in the mess. But finding his place did not come easy.
Thomas’ family first began noticing signs that Thomas may be struggling when he was in High School. Thomas was placed in a psychiatric ward for children by his mother after a nearly violent fight with her boyfriend at the time. The 16 years that followed would be quite a roller coaster of Depression, Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder.
Though many challenges stunted him throughout High School, Thomas managed to graduate. His love for running was put on hold due to academic probation, theft, and threatening suicide, but he was eventually able to letter twice and graduate. With these accomplishments and life looking up, Thomas felt that maybe he had found his way out of a dim precipice, but then soon after, he fell back in.
Thomas and his family were told they were being evicted from their apartment 2 weeks after Thomas’ high school graduation. His mother and sister left and Thomas was left on his own.
“I was out in the streets 6 months. It was rough and difficult. I was looked at funny, I was jumped every other day, there were a few times someone spit on me – in my face. It was horrible. That’s when the depression came back”.
Found by the police in a tent, Thomas stayed at the Haven of Rest for 2 weeks, until his pastor offered a helping hand and a place to stay for 10 months.
Around Labor Day of 2005, a life threatening accident put Thomas in a coma. Thomas was crossing the street on his way home one evening and was struck by a driver who had run a red light. According to Thomas, we was literally knocked out of his shoes.
“I had to learn how to do everything again- how to walk, how to speak, and motor skills. I was in the hospital for 2 months. Sports and game shows kept me going”.
After his recovery, Thomas completed Portage Path’s 13 week ITS program and started group therapy. There, Thomas was urged to consider applying to college. The $50,000 settlement he received from the car accident made this possible.
Thomas applied to a few schools and was accepted to Akron University. Once again, Thomas thought this may be his chance to turn his life around, but he soon found that college was not the experience he had hoped for. As Thomas began his freshmen year, he started to feel inferior and looked down upon. Thomas was struggling to make friends and so he began withdrawing from others all together. Thomas’ therapist at Portage Path suggested he try ITS again, and so he did.
During his sophomore year, Thomas received unexpected news that he was going to be a father. At the same time, Thomas began to notice some health issues arising but decided to put off investigating his health until the spring semester was complete.
Not long after his daughter’s birth that spring, Thomas was arrested for trespassing on the university’s property. Around the same time, Thomas investigated his health and found out he was diabetic.
Though surrounded by negativity once again, Thomas found a light in his daughter and wanted nothing more than to be a good father. He wanted to break the cycle of ‘deadbeat dads’ and be better than his own father was to him. However, Thomas’ mental illnesses made this difficult.
One day, Thomas and the mother of his daughter had a huge argument, leaving Thomas eager to get revenge. To get back at her, Thomas proposed to a woman he had been seeing for a week – a result of a manic episode. The engagement did not last long and Thomas later learned that his ex-fiancé was under age.
After many more months of struggle and counseling, Thomas began to find his place and rhythm. Thomas became a member of CHOICES, and saw a place for him to use his experiences living with mental illness to help other trying to find their way. He now serves on the CHOICES advisory board.
CHOICES is a safe place for people struggling with addiction and mental health issues to gather. CHOICES provides a Social, Recreational, Educational, Resourceful, and empowered center for adults. The center provides materials for arts and crafts, games, and other activities that may serve as coping skills for members.
With his new sense of purpose came more and more positive life events. In 2015, Thomas got married with his daughter as the flower girl and her mother a bridesmaid. Now Thomas and his new wife are big parts of CHOICES and find any way they can to do their part in stopping the stigma around mental illness, which Thomas’ wife also struggles with.
Last year, Thomas used his voice to speak of his journey at the Change Direction Event in Akron and is very proud to have made the Akron Beacon Journal. The Change Direction Event was held on July 22nd at Lock 3 in Akron to promote the initiative to change the conversation around mental health and fight the stigma.
Thomas is very proud of his position and being able to help others with his experiences. He is now in a happy place of recovery, giving, and family as he expresses that he and his wife are expecting their first child together.