27 Jan Vail Place Volunteer and Author Robert Griggs
Sharing Wisdom in the Clubhouse and in His New Self-Help Book
Vail Place is fortunate to have a person like Robert (Bob) Griggs, author and former minister, as a volunteer at our Uptown Clubhouse. He started volunteering about five years ago and is an influential member of our community. His own history with depression and mental illness — and his genuinely caring nature — have allowed him to share powerful recovery strategies and encouragement with so many Clubhouse members. The wisdom he has gleaned from his personal experiences and years of volunteering has motivated him to empower others living with mental illness in the greater community.
From his unique insight, Bob published a book late last year titled Recovering from Depression: Forty-Nine Helps. This is actually his second work, the first being A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies, which is more of a theological book focused on the actual experience of his encounter with depression and hospitalization. The Forty-Nine Helps, however, is more tightly focused on recovery, with a broader community audience in mind. In Bob’s words, “It’s an aid in recovery for someone living with mental illness.” And many of the chapters also reference Vail Place with what he has learned by being a volunteer. In a recent interview, we came to know Bob’s story and journey a little closer.
A personal struggle with mental illness
About 15 years ago, Bob was hospitalized twice for depression and anxiety disorder. It was a very difficult and painful time for him as he also had to give up a job in ministry that he loved and had worked for 26 years. He recalls the dark time, “It was like a fire raging in my mind. My self-esteem plummeted. I was overwhelmed with guilt, shame and self-blame. There was even a time when I wondered if there was anything good left in life for me to continue.”
Gradually, and thankfully, he was able to learn strategies for getting out of bed in the morning and getting through the day. He worked to deal with negative feelings about himself. It took about a year and a half before Bob was able to return to work, which was frightening at first. However, he finally reached a point of being able to experience joy in his profession — “something I never would have thought I would experience again.” He began to find joy in other areas of his life again as well. He reflected, “Being able to look at yourself and laugh at your imperfections and accepting yourself as who you are – that’s a gift.”
Bob views recovery as an ongoing process that continues throughout a person’s life. “That doesn’t mean that life can’t be incredibly rich, satisfying and joyous. But to say that one can be absolutely recovered from mental illness, that just doesn’t ring true for me.” Now, he’s passionate about helping others in their recovery. “Though no one wants to go through it, it’s possible in recovery to find ways to live that are so much healthier and more satisfying than ever before.”
Inspired to support others – Finding Vail Place
Bob discovered Vail Place from a flyer at one of the churches where he was working. He was intrigued by a Vail Place event he attended and a year later as he was moving into retirement, he started volunteering. Since then, Bob has typically gone to Vail Place Uptown about one day a week, starting with the 9:30 a.m. meeting that begins the work ordered day. He is always willing to take any leftover job if needed, but more often he makes himself part of the mix by being present to talk to people, hear their stories and reach out to new members or visitors who are trying to learn more about Vail. He also serves on the Advisory Council.
Bob finds his work with Vail deeply satisfying. “By being with the folks and sharing and listening, you’re doing something that’s good.” The best part about volunteering at Vail Place, he says, is being part of a family. The Clubhouse has become a primary community for Bob, where he feels “accepted as part of an incredible mix of people.” It’s that sense of belonging and being part of something that Bob believes is so important for people coming to Vail who may have felt isolated or alone. After a day of volunteering, he feels valued and happier.
Beyond Vail – Writing the book
Bob wanted to share his experiences on a broader spectrum, driven by the idea that “what has helped me in my recovery will help other people.” The writing process for Recovering from Depression: Forty-Nine Helps took nearly three years. With his regular involvement at Vail Place, his experiences kept deepening. He knew more and kept wanting to add to the draft to make it better. “The book contains a lot of stories from my own recovery, and then there are stories about my life in Vail Place too.” He added that it’s more of a narrative work than essays and abstractions.
The book includes 49 chapters, “each one representing something I experienced, something someone taught me or something I read that proved helpful to me in my recovery.” The chapters can stand alone, but it’s also an unfolding story that follows Bob’s life events as well. He kept the chapters brief and accessible because he recalls how difficult it was for him to focus when he was first out of the hospital. In that difficult time, completion of very small tasks offered a self-esteem boost and sense of accomplishment. He says he has no illusion that all 49 helps will apply to everyone, but he thinks some of them will be helpful for most people.
Bob often gets asked why he chose to include specifically 49 helps. He says his initial goal was 50 – a good number, he thought. But as part of his recovery journey, he says, “I’ve learned that we never reach that kind of perfection. Recovery is always ongoing and it’s unhealthy to demand perfection of ourselves.” He wanted even the format of the book to reflect that. And although it is a very honest account of difficult experiences and his navigation of mental illness, he shares his journey with a little humor too.
In this book, as well as in his efforts at Vail Place, Bob aims to empower others living with mental illness. He works to uplift their self-worth and self-agency while also instilling the truth that there is good yet to experience in life. We are proud of his accomplishments and happy to have him as part of our Vail Place family.