“People inspire me. They infuriate, puzzle, motivate, sadden, surprise, enlighten, awe and confound me… Witnessing another [person] crawl from the depths and stand on their own two feet is the most inspiring and humbling experience I have ever known.”
Those are the sentiments of Eileen Warmbrand, who in 2008 was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It did not come as a total shock; she had experienced the condition’s symptoms for years. Soon after, the Peekskill resident further learned she had both Parkinson’s disease and chronic Lyme disease. In short order, she recalls, “Depression, anger, despair, and hopelessness became nearly constant companions.”
What is somebody—anybody—supposed to do after processing such life-jolting information?
If your spirit and will are as indomitable as Eileen Warmbrand’s, you create a community outreach organization called the Peer-to-Peer Mood Disorder Support Group, Inc. of Peekskill. Focusing on recovery, the seven-month old, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization attends to the needs of people with mood disorders, also enfranchising their friends, family and other supporters.
“Member comfort and security are key,” says Eileen. “Confidentiality is paramount.” Members are advised not to share what is said in the closed sessions with anyone outside the groups. Members also benefit from free informational material and hearing the expert counsel of guest speakers.
“Sharing and learning from the experiences of others who have been there offers the unique opportunity to help others while helping yourself,” says Ms. Warmbrand. “These are not pity parties, or gripe sessions, although they can pass through as elements. There is no greater joy than celebrating the triumphs along the journey of recovery. A major element in peer support is reminding, supporting, sharing, and celebrating life.”
Ms. Warmbrand has been guiding and serving others for nearly 30 years—as a mother, educator, community member and volunteer. Along the way, she developed core competencies essential to well-being.
“I’ve learned valuable lessons: How to speak up, how to listen, how to research, how to trust, not to give up, not to give in. I learned how to listen to, trust and believe in myself, to let others in and seek support, to understand change and allow and look forward to it. I also learned the importance of bringing people together in collaboration and mutual respect.”
Her earliest volunteer experience was in elementary school, where she tutored younger students in reading. In high school, she participated in local political campaigns and in fundraising for the March of Dimes.
In adulthood, Eileen continued her community involvement with activities in theater companies, public education and youth sports. She currently is a member of the Rockland County Office of Mental Health Workgroup.
“As life brought challenges,” she says, “I reached out to others for, and to offer, support, as a member, and organizer of meetup and Facebook groups.”
That well-rounded experience culminated in her founding the Peekskill-based support group last August. “The most valuable lesson I learned is that no matter what I was burdened with, I was not alone. This drives me to help others help themselves toward self-assurance, independence, confidence, and a positive, healthy relationship with their community.”
If Eileen Warmbrand had a wish list, what would be on it?
“If I could wave a magic wand and make anything disappear, it would be the judgment and fear of disability, particularly mental illness. Having to struggle for acceptance, in addition to the struggle to stay healthy, adds weight to the burden. Look to yourself first before you assign expectations, and get to know someone before you decide what’s best for them.”
Weekly meetings of Peer to Peer Mood Disorder Support Group are 6–7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, on the third floor above 12 Grapes Restaurant, 12 North Division St., Peekskill.
For more information: peer2peersupport.com; 914-257-3766; PSPMDSG@gmail.com.
Bruce Apar is chief content officer of Google Partner Agency, Pinpoint Marketing & Design, as well as an actor and a regular contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce the Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.