“Mental illness is not easy, but we are still people. We shouldn’t be labeled. Like me, I’m a slow learner, and I was labeled as mentally retarded. I didn’t fit in with the normal kids in class, but really what is normal?” This is what Andy wishes he could tell people who judge him. This is what he wishes the world would know about people who struggle with mental health challenges.
Despite the conclusions that one might draw from an initial impression of Andy, he is so much more than his bipolar disorder, and Our Space has been instrumental in helping him feel valued and accepted. He has been attending the Our Space drop-in program for the past five years and looks to the friends he has made there for support and encouragement. “Before I started coming to Our Space, I made some bad decisions that got me in a lot of trouble. Coming to Our Space helps me to not do that anymore,” he notes.
Andy comes to the program three days a week and truly enjoys the community he shares. “This is my second family. They have adopted me. They are here for me and help me when I want to talk.” He said that was particularly true when he lost his mom. “They were there to help me get through. It was a really hard time for me,” he recalls.
One thing Andy really enjoys about coming to Our Space is the piano in the community room. “This is my baby,” he says with a twinkle in his eye, just before he starts playing a rousing polka. Andy began playing the piano about 9 years ago, and learns everything from ear, hearing a song and then replicating it on the keys. He says it takes him a couple weeks to master each tune, but he keeps at it until he gets it right.
As a boy, Andy also had an affinity for music. “I had a friend who worked at a music store. They had an accordion there. I picked it up and started to play around with it. I thought it was a lot of fun.” He also fondly recalls the day he inherited an accordion from his dad’s stepfather. “I was so excited to get my very own accordion.” He soon found that he had more than just an average level of talent for the instrument. “I was goofing around in my room with it, and my dad overheard me. He realized that I could actually make music and asked if I wanted to take lessons. After my first lesson the instructor told my dad that normally they don’t teach both hands at the same time, but I picked it up so quickly that he decided to take me on as a student.”
While Andy is confident in his musical abilities, he struggles in interpersonal relationships. “Sometimes it is difficult to tell people ‘no’. I get taken advantage of and that makes me sad. Sometimes I feel like people treat me less than human. I want them to know that I have feelings too. I’m not a piece of dirt or an animal. I am still a human being.”
Throughout it all, music is Andy’s escape. It calms him and helps him to find focus. “It is my pastime away from the world. It helps me relax. I am in a different world when I play,” He also likes the impact his music has on others. “I like to play for people and see them smile. It helps me connect with them.” When asked about his favorite type of music, Andy’s response is immediate. “Polkas and waltzes, of course. Because I am accordion player!”
There is so much more to Andy than meets the eye. He is a beautiful soul, quick with a joke and a smile, and always there to make the world a more beautiful place through the music he so readily shares.
How can you help Our Space? Your donations, no matter how big or small, help us to create a future of hope for people like Andy. Consider partnering with us, and together we will Unmask the Face of Mental Health.