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In Our Own Voices at the TH library

In 2005, Jode Freyholtz-London lost most of the things she valued. Her job ended, her marriage was falling apart and she lost the support of her faith community.

“My life got a little bit ridiculous,” she said.

Now, she shares the story and how she reclaimed her life through a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) program that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. She’ll be speaking at the Two Harbors Public Library this Saturday.

In 2005, the significant losses hit Freyholtz-London hard and she spiraled into a severe depression. She had spent 30 years working in the nonprofit field helping people through rough patches, but she said she hadn’t been through one herself.

“When I started feeling sick, I knew what was wrong with me. I had seen a lot of other people go through the same struggles,” Freyholtz-London said.

Her therapist told her she had basically imploded. Slowly, she began the recovery process. She found a job she loved, met a new partner and rediscovered her faith. One of the harder parts, she said, was telling her adult children about her mental health struggles.

“How do you say to your kids, ‘I just want to die’?” she said. “It was really hard to tell them that.”

Most people just don’t know how to react when their loved one struggles with mental health, Freyholtz-London said.

“We know what to do if someone breaks a leg. If somebody has a mental health crisis, how do we deal with that?” she asked. “It’s my personal mission to share with people that they can get help and life can be okay.”

She began her own nonprofit, Wellness in the Woods, that helps people develop wellness plans to deal with mental health issues. She said the organization tries to fill a gap in rural Minnesota where such services are often lacking.

On Saturday, she will be speaking for NAMI’s In Our Own Voices program. She and another presenter will share their personal stories of dealing with mental illness to show that people can recover or manage their symptoms and lead successful, meaningful lives.

“Am I what you think of when you think of mental illness? I’m not scary, I’m not dangerous,” she said.

Brian Jost, NAMI’s Minnesota director of public awareness and peer programming, said there are 43 presenters in the state. They often do targeted programming, talking about mental health at universities or hospitals to familiarize students and professionals with the face of mental illness. Saturday’s program is a rare presentation geared towards the general public.

“There is no inappropriate audience because of how prevalent mental illnesses are,” Jost said.

He said personal stories coming from people who have learned to manage their illness make it more relatable.

“I think many of the presenters have had the experience of being discriminated against,” Jost said. “They know that sharing their personal stories is one of the best ways to reduce the stigma.”

The free program will take place on Saturday from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Two Harbors Public Library, 320 Waterfront Drive.

“My personal mission is really about supporting other people,” Freyholtz-London said. “I’m a person who really wants to not only see people get better but also to see our system be better.”

LaReesa Sandretsky
LaReesa Sandretsky is a Two Harbors High School graduate and Duluth native who began working at the News-Chronicle in 2012 as a reporter. She took over as editor in 2014. She covers County Board, including the Lake County broadband project.
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