Joe Holt still has bad days. Really bad days when he doesn’t think he is going to make it to bedtime. As a schizophrenic he hears voices that tell him how horrible he is. “There is nothing I can do to convince myself those voices aren’t real,” he says. “Feeling bad is okay as as long as you set boundaries on it. What I have a problem with is when I go outside the boundaries and decide I am going to kill myself.”
With so much written about addiction, here on GMP and elsewhere, mental illness is a much less publicized and an equally challenging path to manhood. In fact, some research points to the strong correlation between addiction and mental illness so its hard to sometimes see where one ends and the other begins.
Joe Holt had an awful childhood but in the end he had to decide that none of that mattered. What mattered was the reality of the voices he heard and how we would possibly deal with them. Unlike addiction which has a set program of recovery that many use successfully, acute mental illness requires its own path with a lot fewer success stories. But Joe’s story is one worth reading–he is now a computer consultant, an entrepreneur, and an inspiration.
In the end having a good wife and being a good father was, and continues to be, one important piece of the puzzle.
And always, he leans on Patsy.
“I don’t have any reference for mental illness except for Joe,” she said. “And I tell him it doesn’t matter what you’ve suffered, you’re an adult now, you’ve got to put that aside. You have responsibilities.”
“I tell him everyone struggles with doubts, with fears — that it’s normal,” she went on. “Normal. And I remind him that he has children to help take care of.”
And so he has, more of them than most fathers will know. On a recent evening after dinner, he sat as serene as the Buddha on his couch as Patsy and the children took turns holding yet another foster child, a 2-year-old daughter of a drug addict who does not look people in the eye and will not eat. The Holts feed her through a tube running into her stomach.
“The one thing she does, though, is she’ll hug you tight,” he said, setting the girl on his stomach, which she squeezed for dear life. “See that, right there? You see what I’m saying? That just kills me.”