Run into any Big Spring State Hospital employee in town and more than likely you will find them sporting green T-shirts with vivid neon accents.
To the untrained eye, it appears as a cute, catchy shirt, but to most Big Spring State Hospital employees it symbolizes something much more.
“I think any time any hospital employee sees that shirt they remember rally day,” said Mique Yarbar, Big Spring State Hospital programs manager.
“Rally day” was May 15 — the day of the inaugural Recovery Rally — one of the most remarkable days in Big Spring State Hospital history, Assistant Superintendent Lorie Dunnam said.
Close to 400 employees and nearly each of the 200 patients attended a day-long rally that preached hope.
“Through hope, recovery is possible,” Dunnam said, echoing the theme of the first Recovery Rally. “We printed a ‘True U’ message on the shirts that reflected our hospital’s belief that mental illness does not define the person. As a society, we must look past the illness and truly see the person.
“I think people living with mental illness often let their illness define themselves. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
The Recovery Rally was a high-energy event that featured skits, musical and dance numbers and probably the most touching part of the rally - the first-person accounts of patients living with mental illness.
Big Spring State Hospital patients had worked for weeks, some months on putting their personal story on paper and sharing how they lived and currently were recovering from mental illness, Yarbar said.
“It was a very emotional part of the day,” she said. “We had all these fun, high-impact moments and then that sobering point where we learned so much about that particular patient and what he or she had done throughout his or her life to lead to this moment in recovery.”
“It was very touching and very humbling. When people share such a personal part of their lives, I always feel special because they trusted me enough to tell me about their life. And they did it in such a public way.”
Those moments of clarity united the staff and united the patients, Dunnam said. “I overheard one person say that ‘this was the single best thing that had ever happened at the state hospital.’
“We wanted to instill a feeling of hope and empowerment amongst our employees and our patients,” she said. “I was unsure how it would be received but it was singlehandedly one of the greatest events in which I have ever been involved.”
The rally rekindled a fire and passion for mental health recovery that may have slowly dimmed during many employees’ tenure, Yarbar said. For many employees newer to the field of mental health, the rally sparked a fire for their work.
“Above all, the rally provided a foundation of hope, which is the key element and the catalyst of the recovery process,” she said.
Long-time employees also gave their “ah-ha” moments when they realized the importance of their work. The “ah-ha’”moment is the moment when employees realize the important part they play in patient recovery.
“We always say at Big Spring State Hospital that those who work here have a ‘calling’,” Yarbar said. “It’s not for everyone. But time and time again when you ask our employees why they work here it’s because they feel as if they make a difference.
“But any employee reaches a point where they wonder if what they are doing is really making a difference. I think you find that in any job, any field, and any career. But when the patients stood up in front of a packed room of nearly 400 people and detailed the steps of their recovery and the impact we played in their lives, it brought such smiles and a few tears to our eyes.”
The personal accounts gave many employees a chance to see the actual person behind the illness, Dunnam said.
“I love my job. I have always loved my job,” she said. “But listening to those stories and hearing our staff talk about their ‘ah-ha’ moments and listening to the poems written by the patients, I had nothing but hope for our future.”
“It was truly an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me,” Dunnam said. “To hear their voices and to hear their hope, you could not help but be invigorated.”
“We, as a staff designed this for our patients, but in the end, I think the patients taught us more that day.”