How One Man’s Breakdown Led to his Empowerment

Gary Nash, 42, is a survivor. After having had a nervous breakdown that stemmed from losing a job, getting a divorce, and attempting suicide twice, he found himself at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center on a 72-hour hold. He stayed admitted for two weeks and thereafter discharged with a list of places to call for mental health services.

Maria Williams, a licensed marriage and family therapist at El Centro de Amistad, was the first person to see him. Gary’s treatment plan included working on the increase usage of positive coping strategies like talking to family or friends, playing his harmonica, and removing himself from negative situations, and increasing stress-reducing strategies by incorporating relaxation exercises.

During his four years of mental health treatment at ECDA, he found himself in jail for two months due to a traffic ticket. While in jail, the medication he had been prescribed was considered a controlled substance so he was not allowed to take it. The thought of someone half his age telling him he couldn’t go outside or couldn’t go to the store made him realize this situation in jail was not going to work. “The fact of the matter is I’m going to find myself arguing or fighting with someone for no reason and obviously I have to figure out a better attitude,” said Gary. “I had to let other people tell me what to do with my life instead of me controlling what I wanted to do in my life.”

This challenging situation led him to practice the coping and stress-reducing strategies that Maria taught him. He would write poems and short stories that kept him focused.

“Besides writing, I tried to help others figure out that they needed mental health. There are some people who need it and are afraid to ask or go and get the help. You can be the toughest guy here but you need help,” said Gary. “I rather have someone know there is something wrong and help me fix the problem than walk away. Everybody is complaining about something but not willing to help solve the problem.”

“When I came out [of jail], I reestablished my mental health treatment with El Centro,” said Gary, who is employed as an in-home care provider. “Some of the tools I learned with Maria helped me cope and understand my situation. I wanted to go to therapy to understand what some of my triggers were.”

“He has knowledge and awareness of his needs and wants,” Maria said. “Gary is now motivated to continue to better himself, stay away from dangers that would otherwise have him in jail again, and he is willing to get legal help to regain the custody of his minor children.”

One strength Gary has is the ability to ask for help. His self-awareness has helped him process triggers of anger and helplessness to have better control and make better decisions for him and his minor children. Maria realizes that Gary has made significant changes including doing the work outside of therapy, a major component of therapy.

“He has seen the benefits of therapy,” said Maria. “I believe that it has motivated him to encourage others to seek their own treatment.”

“[El Centro de Amistad] gave me a platform to actually realize that there is hope. You just have to go out and find it even though it may be a small amount of help that people are looking for. The help is always there,” said Gary. “You have to always go through the work and you have to be willing to do the work and accept what the outcome is. If you go with a closed mind, you won’t get what you’re looking for. You will hinder yourself instead of reaping the benefits and actually opening yourself up to cope with situations.”

Gary is now an advocate. Instead of breaking down, he uplifts himself and empowers others to do the same.