Redemption: Brian’s Story

Brian was born in rural Massachusetts, during a time where discussions about mental health and well-being were rare, if they existed at all.  “If you were a man, you were supposed to be ‘a man.’ There was no such thing as self-care. If you were hurting, you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and you kept going no matter what you were feeling,” he says.

For eight years, Brian was the sole caregiver for his sick parents, during which he dealt with depression by doing his best to just push through it. After his parents passed away, he began to realize, “I was just sitting around and waiting to die. I wasn’t suicidal, in that I didn’t want to take my own life, but I also just kind of…wanted death to take me.” He reached out for therapy in his area, and with help, reached the point where he felt he was surviving. He took odd jobs, and felt that while he was living life again, he was poking around aimlessly. He had no direction and felt far from thriving.

Moving to Denver was a pivotal change in Brian’s life. He had met a woman and was in a happy relationship. He loved her family – their family, as he describes – and felt that their relationship was going well. He started a furniture business designing, building and flipping old furniture. For a while, he felt really good about his life. He found his work fulfilling, though not always rewarding.

Then, his business was robbed. The thieves stole nearly all of his equipment, gutting his business and forcing him to close. Brian’s depression flared, which affected his life, as well as his family’s lives. His relationship suffered, and he could see it happening, but felt he couldn’t do anything about it. He says, “I essentially just laid down on the couch and didn’t move. I still cooked, because I knew my family needed to eat, but that’s really it. I just stayed on the couch for a year.”

Brian grew up around food. His godparents owned a diner, his mother was a waitress, and he spent his childhood exposed to food prep and food culture. It inspired a love of cooking in him that, even in the worst of his depression, never truly left him.

“I’ve always been a good cook,” he says. “And that’s really all I had left. I felt like a failure and it was easy to go down that path of self-negativity. I was essentially just waiting to die, but I still had cooking.”

Brian started accessing services with the Mental Health Center of Denver about a year into his major depressive episode. He knew about the organization from his step-son and decided to call the access center to see about getting help. For the first few months, he showed up to his appointments, but after a while, he stopped going. He stopped taking his medications. He stopped caring. And then he hit the end of his rope.

“I didn’t know what to do. I kind of hit that point where I asked myself, ‘how do I get out of this?’ So I called my therapist again.”

She responded right away. Brian started going back to his appointments regularly and forcing himself to do the work his therapist recommended, even when he didn’t want to. Especially when he didn’t want to. While he was seeing his therapist at the Recovery Center, she mentioned to him that he might find some happiness and success with 2Succeed’s cooking program at Sally’s Café. Given Brian’s love of cooking, he figured “why not?”

“With the Mental Health Center of Denver, I’ve always felt like someone was looking out for me and helping me….I feel like I have a support system that was never there before.”

Brian began to thrive at 2Succeed. By the end of his second day at Sally’s Café, he was helping with ingredient prep. By the end of the first week, people were asking him questions and seeking advice. By the end of his second week, people were calling him “Chef.”

“It kind of became my kitchen for me, and that was remarkable and freeing. It had been so long since I’d been able to do something like that and it felt great. It felt good to be good at something.”

He found through the flexibility and resources of 2Succeed, he was able to test his creativity when inspiration struck. He had the means to experiment, to truly push the boundaries of art through food, and it provided him immeasurable validation.

One day, one of the job placement specialists at 2Succeed pointed out to him that a career fair was happening for a new hotel, which happened to be close by. She encouraged him to go to the job fair and speak with people, just to see what might happen. All of Brian’s hard work and determination paid off.

During the job fair, he met the executive chef for the hotel’s restaurant. During their conversation, the executive chef was impressed with Brian’s experience and his willingness to run an overnight shift in the kitchen. He was hired right away.

Since then, Brian has continued to thrive. He’s now working on a series of frozen desserts for people with dietary restrictions and is hoping to create a new business. He has a strong support network of people cheering him on. And, through it all, he has had the Mental Health Center of Denver at his back.

“With the Mental Health Center of Denver, I’ve always felt like someone was looking out for me and helping me. Before, I felt completely alone. Now, I feel like no one will let me slip through the cracks. I feel like I have a support system that was never there before.”

Brian’s future looks brighter than ever to him. He has invitations to other jobs, multiple paths to choose if he wants them. He recognizes his strengths as a creative maker and knows how to look for people who complement those strengths. He practices self-care and prioritizes taking care of his health and well-being. He has a living wage, an apartment of his own, and doesn’t feel as “duty-oriented” as before.

“I don’t know if it’s gonna work, but it’s really exciting. I’ve got people believing in me,” he says, smiling brightly. “I’m really proud I made it this far. It was not a sure thing. I’m proud of the work I’ve done over the past few years. I’m a high-functioning member of society and very talented – I was delighted to find that out. Things are really good for me right now. Really, really good.”