Recovering Through Advocacy
By Kent Goddard
All my life I had the impression that something was wrong with me. When I was almost eighteen years old, I had a severe nervous breakdown. My life came Crashing down on my psyche. My first psychiatrist diagnosed me with schizophrenia and put me on Thorazine and Stelazine. Those Drugs made the delusions go away.
Many years later I joined an advocacy organization, The North Carolina Mental Health Consumers' Organization (NCMHCO)
The director of NCMHCO asked me to see if I could join the Dorothea Dix Hospital Human Rights Committee. At that point i met the chair of that committee, George Gay. George was my first mentor, as how to maneuver amoung people on a committee or board to get a desired outcome.
George Gay saw to it that i was appointed to an important County Board. This board was a consolidation of three former county boards. including the county mental health board. It was the Wake County Human Services Board, which I served on for eleven years. Over and over again I spoke about issues from a consumer point of view.
I obtained funding to attend a National Mental Health Association Conference and at that conference acquiring a workbook about Peer Counciling, eventually I and another advocate were able to convince the county bureauracy that peer counseling was viable.
Later, I joined the Community Partnership Inc Executive Board. I served six years much of it raising money for that private non-profit. I also served on a committee that hired a new executive for CPI.
These experiences enhanced my self-esteem. They made me realize T had a vocation in life; to reform the systems that serve disabled people in my country and state. And a calling from God.
Marrying my first and onlywife helped in my recovery too. Throughout me illness, I have complied with my medication. My church family has been supportive too.
And Finally , my insightinto my illness has helped me alot. I do not say I am recoved (past tense) but I am recovering (progressive tense). In other words I will be recovering for the rest of my life.
The News & Observer
April 21, 2002
Patient and Activist for the mentally ill
Author: Ned Glascock; Staff Writer
Birthdate: April 15, 1947
Birthplace: Ocala, Fla.
Title: Chairman, Human Rights Committee of the Wake County Human Services board
Heroes: Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothea Dix
W. Kent Goddard will tell you up front, if you ask. He sees no reason to be ashamed of his mental illness.
Each day, Goddard swallows 18 pills to control his schizophrenia and major depression. The meds work for him, let him function; give him strength to fight for his cause. No shame in that.
As chairman of the Human Rights Committee of the Wake County Human Services board, Goddard is in the rare position of being both a mental-health patient and an advocate for mental-health patients. After decades of suffering the indignities of the system, he has dedicated himself to work for change.
"They used to put people away in asylums, and they were chained to walls," Goddard, a heavyset man standing 6-foot-3, says in a gravelly, booming voice. "The most humane thing for us now is to be out in society. That's my mission: to reform the system from within and reduce the stigma of mental illness."
The path of his 55 years has begun to turn his short hair and close-cropped beard a shade of gray, and years of medication have made his hands and arms shake.! Dark delusions and years in mental hospitals have yielded to activism and marriage. And along with that, to new hope, not just for Goddard, but for others who lack a voice.
"He doesn't mind speaking out," says his wife of 11 years, Laura A. Goddard, 46, who has been diagnosed with major depression, phobias and other mental disabilities. "He articulates very well what's in our hearts, and he speaks what thousands of people can't say themselves."
As a member of the human services board, Kent Goddard has a say in the policies and spending priorities of the county's mental health system. He has lobbied state legislators and North Carolina congressmen for increased funding. It is a difficult role to succeed in, but Goddard says he tries not to be discouraged.
"He is an example of someone who has a very significant mental illness and who really is out there talking and trying to make a difference as a consumer," said Barbara L. Goodmon, chairwoman of t! he Wake County Human Services board.
"Consumers are n! ot liste ned to very much. But who would know better about the need in the community than someone who deals with it day in and day out? Than Kent? He keeps everybody reminded of what needs to be done. He badgers and badgers, which he should. He doesn't stop. He does everything he can."
Goddard says he is candid about his mental health because the only way to improve the system of treatment is to bring mental illness out of the closet.
"Stigma hurts people, people who haven't committed any crime or haven't done anything wrong ," he said. "They just have the gene in their body, and nature takes its course."
Goddard's candor gives him credibility, said Maria Spaulding, executive director of Wake County Human Services.
"There's so much that's closeted as it relates to the image of mental illness, and people have a tendency not to want to deal with it," Spaulding said. "And he is up front about his mental illness. He's just asking that you accept him the! way he is. He's very responsible about his condition. Many people think there is no help for people who are mentally ill. That's a misnomer. He is definite proof."
Goddard was born April 15, 1947, in the horse country of Ocala, Fla. His father was a government hydrologist, and his mother was trained as a teacher but became a homemaker because state law prohibited married women from working in the schools. The family moved to West Virginia, then Washington, D.C., then back to West Virginia before settling in Raleigh in 1953.
Goddard knew early on of an uncle who had schizophrenia. "I feel like that schizophrenic gene was passed on to me," Goddard said.
He was 17 when mental illness took over. It was 1965, and Goddard was away from home for the first time, on a Methodist youth group trip to New York City and Washington. Delusional, he was talking nonsensically. He was flown home and put under psychiatric care.
"Worst day of my life," Goddard said. "I knew something was really wrong the first time I w! as taken to a psychiatrist."
The delusions were overwhelming. "One of the most grandiose delusions I ever had was that if I wasn't good, the government of the United States was going to be turned over to little old ladies whose husbands were in the Ku Klux Klan in Selma, Ala., and they would start a thermonuclear war," he said. "This was in the height of the Cold War and the civil rights strife. I felt like if I weren't good, that Jesus would come back, I would be found wanting and go to hell, and everyone else would go to heaven."
Within a couple of months, the delusions went away, and Goddard graduated from Broughton High School. At a loss for what to do, he worked at menial jobs and then enrolled at N.C. State University. But he couldn't concentrate on lectures, couldn't comprehend textbooks. The delusions started again.
"My life just fell apart," he said. "Reality just caved in on me."
He spent the next three years at Dorothea Dix men! tal hospital. The summer of 1967 was the worst, he said, living in an open ward with row after row of beds. "It was a living hell. Noise. Feces on the floor. There was no privacy. There was one particular patient -- and it wasn't his fault -- he would just moan and groan all night long, and they never moved him."
Goddard was despondent: "It was like God just abandoned me. What did I do, God, to deserve all this?"
Later, he was transferred to a private room. As medications helped stabilize him, Goddard was allowed to work outside on the hospital farm, tending cows, pigs and chickens. After he got out, Goddard held a number of jobs: stock worker at Sears, cafeteria busboy, hotel laundry room worker.
Those three years were his longest time in the hospital, although he returned in 1988 for 11 months and again in 1993 for nine days. Again, finding the right medications spelled the difference.
Goddard's activism began in 1989, when he attended a conference in Columbia, S.C., to educate mental health patients about their rights and opportunities.
"I knew I wanted to try to change the mental health system for the better," he said, "because I knew it needed changing, and other consumers were making noises and having conferences and writing in the paper. I wanted to be a part of that."
There, he met his future wife, who had just gotten out of the John B. Umstead mental hospital in Butner.
A month later, as she brushed her hair before her first date with Goddard, she said she saw a vision in the mirror: herself dressed as a bride, he as a bridegroom. She asked him that day to marry her. Fourteen months later, they wed.
The couple have a Raleigh home, built by Habitat for Humanity, but for now they are living with Goddard's elderly mother in her ranch home inside the Raleigh Beltline so they can take care of her.
Sometimes, they say, their illnesses make getting through the day a chore. But they persevere, surviving on government disability che! cks and Laura Goddard's part-time job selling tickets at a movie theater.
She is proud of her husband's activism.
Goddard knows what he wants as his legacy.
"I would like my grave to say: an advocate for a better mental health system.”Goddard said. "That's what I would like to have for my epitaph. I feel like it's my calling from God."
The Nwes & Observer Pub. Co
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