“We all yearn for happiness and nobody really aims to be the poster child for Mental Health. But, we each have a greater purpose and a calling, I suppose,” says Jodie Wells with a wide smile that is the mark of his character.
For the past 7 years, Jodie has served as the Program Coordinator for the Community Connection Mariposa Mental Health and Wellness Center, a program of the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County providing assistance and support for adults seeking mental health wellness and recovery.
In January, he was promoted to the South County Site Manager of Community Connection and now leads a team in providing outreach to the larger mental health community- overseeing relations with county and community partners in Watsonville.
Years of dedicated work as a provider and many more as a client himself, have given Jodie unique insight.
“The most challenging part about mental illness is the surrounding stigma- the sense of isolation and shame. Trauma is trauma, and yet the societal implications of diagnosing and reaching out for help with a mental health disability versus a physical disability are quite different. Sharing our personal stories is difficult, but so important to break the stigma,” states Wells.
Jodie has weathered his fair share of challenges and frequently shares his story to give others confidence that they too, with support and dedication, can make it through.
“I was very popular in high school. I had a lot of friends and I was an athlete, but as a young man at the age of 16, I knew something was different. I always felt very compassionate towards others and seemed to feel things more deeply than those around me. I knew that a part of me suffered. At the time, I identified it as loneliness. Looking back now I know it was depression,” states Wells.
“It wasn’t until the age of 25 that I was officially diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder, which gave me a name for the sense of otherness I felt, and for a long time this simple act of identifying it was enough to help me cope in a world of constant highs and lows.”
Fortunately, his 20’s and early 30’s provided many more highs than lows. He married and had children, maintained a successful job working for a steel company, served as a minister and eventually opened his own skateboard business.
“For a time, things were fabulous. The upside of mania is the endless energy it provides. I was very successful. But then my wife and I started having difficulties and my ability to manage went down the drain. I started to self-medicate in order to cope and I dropped away from those stabilizing forces in my life,” said Wells.
After a divorce, Jodie came to California to visit his brother and start fresh. He enrolled in business classes at Cabrillo College but was plagued by ongoing depressive episodes. Eventually, Jodie quit school, lost his housing, and started living out of hotels until his money ran out. Ultimately, he found himself homeless as he struggled through his disability.
At this low point, he made the courageous choice to reach out for support. He self-inserted himself into a recovery program and began the long journey to wellness which ultimately resulted in his work with our program Community Connection and Mariposa Wellness Center.
In 2003, Jodie connected with Community Connection’s Career Services where he was provided with the support he needed to get back into college and long-term resources for addressing his disability. Jodie changed his major to Human Services, utilized every class offered by Community Connection, and even interned for class credit.
“With the support of Community Connection classes, I spent an intensive year mapping myself, identifying each feeling and my response to it– Doctors call that triggers, I call it awareness,” states Wells.
Jodie also worked intensively with cognitive therapy techniques learning to utilize his symptoms.
“It is through such work that I was able to rise and grow out from under a label,” states Wells.
Jodie now teaches these techniques to others during the group therapy lessons he provides at the Wellness Center.
“We have all the tools one needs for health and wellness at Community Connection. It brings tears to my eyes knowing the possibilities for those with mental health disabilities. I am living proof and I know others can rise above. I go through it everyday just like our clients,” states Wells.
Jodie is one among millions of Americans who are managing mental health issues. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that mental disorders are the leading cause of disability amongst individuals ages 18-44 and it is estimated that one in 17 individuals suffer from serious mental illness.
So many in our community face their mental health challenges in isolation and we believe no one should struggle alone when there are resources available.
Our mission at Community Connection is to empower our mental health community through wellness, meaningful activity, and community connection. At the heart of all of our programs is one core belief: that by engaging individuals in meaningful activities that match their interests and talents, people move beyound their diagnosis to a more positive sense of self: friend, employee, volunteer, student etc.
In the last year more than 40 people successfully entered college, 40 plus individuals joined the workforce, 85% of Community Connection participants volunteered in the community, and 90% reported a reduction in symptoms.
At a time when the larger media is so focused on what is not working within Mental Health community, we are proud to share what is.
In partnership with our community we aim to break free from stigma by sharing our stories of success, learning, and growth.
We have the power to break down that sense of otherness and build connection, by celebrating and sharing the everyday stories of our friends and neighbors in the mental health community.
We are so proud of folks like Jodi, who are brave enough to share their journey to wellness and we look forward to sharing more stories of empowerment through our blog in the coming months.
Want to learn more about mental health, fighting stigma and how to connect with Community Connection as a volunteer, donor, or participant?