Sautee, GA - 2018-03-16

Larry: I’m dual-diagnosed with bipolar disorder and [addiction].

I had three hospitalizations in the mid-eighties. What that does to your psyche is pretty devastating. The stigma and discrimination that comes with mental illness--you sometimes internalize that and see yourself as broken or less-than. You can start acting that way--the impact of the whole illness thing and what it can do to just take away your hope. You gotta have hope.

BW: Was there an event that led up to your first hospitalization?

Larry: I had sort of a God experience, and it felt very real. I got really manic. I came to believe that God was communicating with me. I didn’t hear voices, but I would get ideas in my head and then come up with possible solutions. When I got the right solution, I got this euphoric rush. I felt like that was sort of giving me direction.

I did some bizarre things. Like, I believed that Coca-Cola was evil because it used to have cocaine in it, and so I knocked over a couple of cocaine machines.

There was one situation where God communicated to me that there were some children buried in a landfill in Cumming, Georgia. I was living on Lake Lanier, so I set out to try to go find them and swam across part of Lake Lanier. I had on nothing but sweatpants, and they came off during the swim so I was buck-naked when I went up and knocked on a door at this big beautiful lake home. The woman came to the door and just started screaming. I didn’t think I looked that bad naked…

There was a little cabin next door, and no one was there. I broke the glass, opened it up, and went inside. I had a sense that I was meant to be there ‘cause the guy’s clothes fit me, and he liked the wine that I liked.

I heard a guy yelling at me to come outside, and he had a rifle pointed at me. He told me to wait there till the police came, and I said no, I wasn’t going to do it. I thought I was sort of invincible, so I walked up the driveway, and the deputy pulled in--took me to jail. Then a psychiatrist came and interviewed me, and they sent me in the back of a deputy’s car to a psychiatric hospital in Atlanta.

In my mid-thirties I quit drinking. My wife ended up divorcing me. I went broke. I would have been in jail if it hadn’t been for my family intervening, so I decided I couldn’t drink anymore. I ended up taking medication, and it did help me.

I became a writer for the Gainesville Times. Once I went to a meeting in Habersham County. The topic was about opening a group home, and people were opposed to it. I said, “You know, I’ve been covering your meetings for three years, and the stigma and discrimination of mental illness here is unbelievable. I’m somebody that lives with it. I wish you would consider how this might be really helpful.”

They ended up passing it. There was somebody there who was in charge of mental health for NE Georgia. He called me the next day and asked if I’d go to a meeting representing NE Georgia to try to start a new organization.

So, I was their first volunteer coordinator. We had our first conference, and it took off from there.

Then I got asked to work at the state office on the management team, so I was able to push things from the inside. We were taking the medical model out of it and making it about peer support.

We were the first state to get Medicaid to pay for peer support services. That’s what took off around the country. Now, most of the states can bill Medicaid for peer support. We created peer respites where you can spend up to seven nights in a home environment surrounded by peer support.

BW: I stayed in a peer respite for a couple of days out in LA to see what it was like. It was an eye-opening experience. I like that there’s no medical staff involved, that nobody’s asking you if you’ve taken your meds. There’s a sense that you have value, and you have worth.

The work that you all did helped create that respite center and many others. Thousands of people have benefited from that work. It’s pretty amazing. Thank you for what you’ve done.

Larry: Well, a lot of us worked on it, but it gave me back purpose in my life. If you lose that, it’s death-making.

Mary Grace

Mary Grace