David is still standing after taking on a
pair of goliaths
David knows success.
As a young man he was asked to be the manager of his high school football team. David went on to coach high school football and girl’s basketball for several years in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
After earning an associate’s degree, David landed as a job broadcast engineer. He worked for ESPN, CBS Sports and NBC Sports broadcasting a variety of high profile sporting events like NASCAR races, and the games of all the professional sports teams (Indians, Browns, Cavaliers) in Cleveland, Ohio.
David had a keen interest in politics. He worked on successful election campaigns for local, state and national candidates, including that of former two-term U.S. president Bill Clinton. As a result, David has dined at the White House on more than one occasion.
As accustomed to success as he was, David eventually came up against a foe far tougher than all the professional athletes he covered combined. The specter of mental illness paid him a visit just as it did his mother and several other family members.
David was about 30 when he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Mental illness caused him to isolate himself from other people, ignore his personal hygiene, and drink. The crazy schedule demanded by his job didn’t help. David became lonely after 15 years of living out of a suitcase and traveling 250 days a year.
At 33, David began self-medicating with alcohol. “It really didn’t help and just wound up making me a homeless alcoholic,” he said. The combination of mental illness and alcoholism cost David his lucrative job and left him homeless for at least three years since 2000.
He’s doing better now. David has learned to manage his illness and has been sober for nine years. Even so, he sometimes has mood swings which cause him to get his days and nights reversed. Now 51, David continues to see a therapist twice a month.
David’s first exposure to mental illness came at the tender age of four. His mother held a master’s degree in education, but her intelligence was no match for the schizophrenia that took hold when she was in her 30s.
He recalls visiting his Mom at a state hospital in Ohio. The illness kept David’s mother out of his life. Therefore, David grew very close to his father who passed away in 2017.
Despite his challenges, David says, “I never lost God. I chose to push Him away then tried to find Him in a bottle of scotch,” he recalled. “Alcohol took 10 years of my life away. It is by the grace of God that I’m still here.”
On the recommendation of other St. John Center clients, David initially came to the shelter to get coffee, catch up with friends, and check mail.
He believes St. John Center is an important resource for the homeless who are also battling mental illness. “St. John Center is a depository where the mentally dysfunctional and developmentally handicapped wind up when they are discharged from institutions or hospitals and have no place else to go. A lot more mentally ill people would be walking the streets all day if not for this Center,” said David.
One of the people David met at SJC was housing case manager Tom Parmenter, who convinced him to submit an application for a room at the YMCA. With Tom shepherding the application David got a room in about a month.
“Living at the YMCA gives me the freedom to live life on my own terms. I have my own room to sleep in and don’t have to be back at four PM,” he said. “I share a kitchen and bathroom with the other guys that live here. Being able to go out at night frees me up to do a lot more things.”
“David is such an active, interested, and interesting person. He is very involved in advocating for those who experience mental illness. He shares his thoughts about the needs of shelter clients and how St. John Center and/or other shelters can best meet these needs,” said Tom. “He is a very capable individual with a good heart who cares about justice and what is right. I appreciate that about him.”
David is working on his autobiography and doing some public speaking on mental health issues. He would like a part-time job as a peer support specialist either in mental health or special education.
With David’s alcoholism under control, mental illness is the biggest daily challenge. In a future article, we will look more closely at the reality of those battling mental illness and the challenges they face.