Man fractured, not defeated
Jerry Vance, 58, is a broken man by societal standards, but to those around him — residents and staff alike — he is an inspiration.
Vance is a resident at Westview Manor of Peabody.
He has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder — a disruptive cocktail of mental challenges.
His path has been long and complicated. At an early age he was able to cope with his mental challenges and showed no severe effects.
That was until Brenda, his wife of 20 years, died much sooner than expected from cancer.
Crushing grief, severe depression and heartbreaking loneliness crashed down on Vance.
“I felt so bad,” he said. “She wanted me to take her home to die but the hospital wouldn’t let me.”
His method for coping with grief, guilt, and anger was through self-harm, a typical reaction of those with mental illness.
He began a downward spiral into alcoholism and drug use. Hiding in a safe place was a saving grace for him although in the overall picture, not the best practice for him.
“All my life I’ve been prone to using sleeping and eating as coping mechanisms,” Vance said. “Being safe in my bed and sleeping helps push away the worries and fears.”
Because of his self-harming behavior, he was admitted to Larned State Hospital, then transferred to a facility in Clyde.
While at Clyde, Vance had liver surgery and was given a week or two to live, which offered nothing positive for his mental health.
Waking each morning to say the Serenity Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer helped him make it through those first bleak weeks.
“It seems the more I pray, more good things happen to me,” Vance said. “There are always downfalls, but my faith helps me pick myself up, figure out what I need to change, and pray more.”
When it was apparent he would live longer than two weeks, he immersed himself in residental living.
He grew physically stronger, learned more coping skills for his mental health issues and made a decision to be part of the resident family.
He was elected resident president, became known as someone others could count on, and even played Santa one year.
“They said I was the best Santa they had ever had,” he said with pride.
With his faith in God, friendship of fellow residents, and love from the staff, Vance feels he made a new family.
His guardian suggested he transfer to Westview in Peabody to be able to re-enter society sooner than where he was.
Vance has been at Westview since January and says it’s “a really good place to be, a 10 out of 10.”
“The food is really good, we get plenty of exercise, the staff looks out for you, and I can even talk to the administrator if I need to,” Vance said.
The facility is equipped to house 45 patients with severe and persistent mental illness, administrator Jo Olsen said.
“Our mission is to provide our residents with the means to become successful,” she said.
Vance’s vision is to heal and become a sustainable citizen. Residents are given numerous opportunities to explore the world outside the facility walls.
“We get to walk around town, go swimming, attend the circus, go out to eat, fish, shop at Walmart, and go to church and AA meetings,” he said These experiences help me adjust to re-entering society.”
The facility also provides a medical doctor, psychiatrist, and counseling services through Prairie View mental health center in Newton.
According to Vance, “I’m a leader. I enjoy starting new programs here.”
The agency has monthly council meetings where Vance suggested an “employee of the month” and “resident of the month.”
The chosen staff member receives a full days wage plus the right to park in a designated space. Residents receive $10 and a certificate to decorate their room door.
He and a couple of residents have taken to rolling their own cigarettes to decrease costs for the smokers. Thursday they made 300 cigarettes.
“Something real fun that I started is to give residents cards on their birthdays,” Vance said.
Along with the card, the staff member or resident is taken out for a celebratory meal.
Vance has put in his request to Olsen to be Santa this year at the facility.
He also requested chef’s salad be introduced to the menu and it was added.
“Now people can choose from the regular meal or the chef’s salad,” Vance said. “It’s become pretty popular.”
“I’m alone in the world now,” he said. “People here have made me feel like I have a place to be and family to care for me. I’ll stay friends with many of them after I leave.”
Last modified Oct. 17, 2018