14 Mar Bernie
In 1977, Bernie was in the Air Force, working as an aircraft mechanic, when the commander of his squadron noticed something was different about him. He seemed to have a difficulty focusing on tasks and talking with those around him. As Bernie became increasingly stressed and distracted, his commander grew more worried, eventually sending him to the hospital to get help.
Bernie, too, knew something was not right. He had difficulty controlling his thoughts, couldn’t seem to cope with daily tasks, and was plagued by severely paranoid ideas. Some unhealthy alcohol and drug habits he had picked up over the past few years complicated his struggles. In the hospital, he went through detox and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
The diagnosis alone solved very few problems for Bernie. Even with medication, Bernie still struggled, isolating himself and going deeper into a spiral of depression. He could no longer advance his career in the Air Force, which had been his life goal for so long. Losing connections with co-workers and friends, Bernie shut down and shut out the world around him.
In 1982, Bernie’s sister brought him from the south to Minnesota because of the positive things she had heard about Minnesota’s mental health system. Both Bernie and his sister hoped Minnesota would be the change he needed. He began the slow process of recovery. “I had to re-learn so many things I already knew!” Bernie said about this process. He started talking with people and reconnecting with the outside world. For the first time in a long while Bernie was keeping in touch with current events and new things going on with the people around him.
Through a friend, Bernie was introduced to Vail Place in 1989. He had been looking for a place to belong, and Vail Place offered just that. Bernie speaks passionately about the support Vail Place has offered over the years. “Through the ups and downs of life,” he says, “Vail Place has been that consistent place to go and that base place to come back to.” He has been through more challenges, but has appreciated the social support and friendships found at Vail. Plus, Vail has opened doors for growing opportunities for Bernie, including a transitional employment position he held at Faegre and Benson law firm and the chance to attend a Mid-States Clubhouse Conference.
Nowadays, Bernie is feeling like himself, outgoing and happy. He is enjoying life and looking forward to spring weather, so he can start riding his motorcycle again. Bernie’s advice to others struggling in their recovery from a mental illness? “Don’t give up. Recovery is an ongoing process. Appreciate the progress you’ve made and the steps you’ve accomplished. And find a community.” Vail Place has been that community for Bernie for over 20 years. As Bernie sits comfortably in the sun room at Hopkins Vail Place, he looks around. “You know,” he says, “even though I was born in Miami, I feel like my roots are here.”