Mental Health at the Mic: A Veteran’s Story
by Glenn Holsten
Men of color in Philadelphia are busting stigma by sharing their journeys of mental health recovery.
OC87 Recovery Diaries is proud to present the second part of a series of portraits of men who have participated in the city’s Engaging Males of Color BEyond Expectations storytelling series.
Here’s a video that we’ve made about the series.
This post features the stories and an interview with Russell Walker — father, husband, son, and a veteran of the United States Army.
“I think for men of color, being able to talk, and being able to just tell somebody your problems is very helpful, I found. In our community we have to be more open to listening to people and not judging them,” he says.
Russell tells three stories that intriguingly connect the three different life experiences. From a youth who witnesses an act of violence while playing on the streets of Philadelphia (“That was a trauma that I didn’t realize it was trauma until I was a lot older”), to a dream he had that convinced him he had led a previous life (“Every night, every day, I had the same dream. It wasn’t a recurring dream. It was like a dream that progressed”), to his service in Iraq as a member of the U.S. National Guard (“There are a lot of veterans who didn’t come back, even though they came back, who didn’t come back. They’re having a hard time dealing with life”).
Upon his return from Iraq, Russell had a difficult time. “When I couldn’t take a shower without my gun, when I couldn’t sleep without my gun, I started to notice that there may be something wrong there. That kind of pushed me to go to the VA and talk to somebody and to try and explain to my family at least what I’m feeling and what I’m dealing with.” He bravely spoke about his troubles to his family and sought help from the Veteran’s Administration.
Russell lives with PTSD, something that affects his daily life.
“I never liked big crowds. I never liked going somewhere there were a whole bunch of people. I don’t like noises. I guess me serving kind of magnified it. . . I drive around a lot sometimes. I still catch myself, I scan roofs for snipers. If I see something in the street that looks odd, I’ll try and go around it. I guess it’s just a lot of things that I did over there, I brought back and I still was doing. It manifested in me.”
In addition to the support he receives from the VA, Russell practices martial arts and writes poetry to aid him in his recovery. His poem, My Turn, is featured here.
His family is another driving force in his recovery. Russell graduated from St. George University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in sociology. He recently bought a house and is trying his hardest to create a stable home so that his kids can “aim high and be successful as they can be.”
“That’s my main goal; to make sure that my family is safe, secure, and that they can live out their lives.
Q&A with Russell Walker
ABOUT EMOC: Engaging Males of Color (EMOC) is a ground-breaking program established by the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services that addresses the impact of health, economic and educational disparities experienced by males of color.
One of their most successful initiatives is the storytelling series BEyond Expectations.
EMOC works directly with Philadelphia’s First Person Arts, a non-profit organization that celebrates the story in each one of us, to help the men prepare for their performance. With guidance from First Person Arts, stories are written, rehearsed and then finally performed in front of a live audience. After the stories are shared, there is time set aside so that audience members can follow up with their observations, comments or questions. These stories are a spark for a much needed conversation in our culture about mental health. In this case, mental health specifically for males of color.
Please visit dbhids.org for additional behavioral health resources and to learn more about Engaging Males of Color. More information about First Person Arts is available at firstpersonarts.org.