Here Now: Woman strives to maintain mental heath without lifeline of work — (Star News Online)

SSRI Ed note: Woman, difficult upbringing, many setbacks diagnosed depressed, bipolar, on antidepressants at 35, by 53 has dumped drugs, manages with positive attitude.

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Star News Online

By Si Cantwell, Staff Writer

Published: Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 5:19 p.m.   Last Modified: Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 5:29 p.m.

Leland | Dianne Dees credits the Southeastern Center for Mental Health for helping her through a dark period in her life. She suffered from depression and was diagnosed as bipolar. The services and support she received then are not as readily available in this period of mental health reform.

She told me, when we first started talking about this column a few weeks ago, that work was her lifeline. Working with her hands had given her focus and a positive outlook.

Unfortunately, her employer is Brunswick Corp.’s Navassa boatyard. The company recently announced it will “mothball” the boat factory by year-end, putting 270 people out of work.

So at 53, Dees is looking for another job.

But she’s staying hopeful. She says her newfound confidence will carry her through the job search.

And she says she is maintaining her mental health without medications. Once obese at 235 pounds, she is trim, bright-eyed, personable and optimistic.

She can handle what life throws at her.

Life has certainly thrown a lot at Dianne Dees.

She grew up in Mobile, Ala. Her mom was 14 when she married Dees’ father, who was 19.

“My mother was a child raising a child,” she said.

The family didn’t have much money, but she attended the private Faith Academy growing up.

“Dad was a racist,” she said. He didn’t want her attending public schools in those early days of integration.

She was homecoming queen in high school but she had few friends. On weekends, her father would spirit the family away to land he owned in remote Deer Park, Ala., where he’d grown up.

Dees said she was sexually abused from age 5 to 9 by an adult relative, not one of her immediate family members. It scarred her, causing her to become introverted and withdrawn.

“No matter what you accomplished, you’re dirty, you’re soiled,” she said.

When she graduated high school, her father gave her $100 and told her to leave the household.

She married one of her brother’s friends. The marriage lasted five years.

Then she met another man. They married and raised a daughter and son.

She taught Bible studies and coached girls sports at Faith Academy. Pictures and mementoes show a smiling, attractive coach well-liked by her athletes.

But there was inner turmoil. At 35, she was receiving antidepressant medications. After 17 years, the marriage ended because of “trust issues.”

Her son came to Wilmington for a job cleaning up after 1999’s Hurricane Floyd. She came, too.

She worked for a time at an appliance-repair company. But the divorce, her mother’s death, repressed memories of childhood abuse and a fire-and-brimstone religious upbringing combined, she said, to pull her down.

“I couldn’t manage the job well,” she said. “I was depressed.”

She came to Southeastern Mental Health and in 2003 was approved for charity care by New Hanover Regional Medical Center.

At first the medications made her worse. At one point, she actually doubted her own perceptions.

But several life lessons helped her.

She had some spinal degeneration. A physical therapist told her, “We are all degenerating, some just faster than others.” She learned to concentrate on her abilities rather than her disabilities.

A pain management doctor said posture added to her difficulties. “Stand tall, like a princess,” he advised. It helped. She shrugged off her unworthy feelings.

A woman at the Employment Security Commission suggested a different approach to an assessment test: “Don’t answer based on what you can do, answer based on what you would like to do.”

The results steered her toward the job at the Navassa boatyard putting finishing touches on the aft berth, a little bedroom. She worked on the 2500 line of boats, a smaller boat that allows overnight trips. She enjoyed the physical labor and took pride in her work.

“There wasn’t anything better than to look in that room and see it was so beautiful,” she said. “It took me to the next level of self-confidence.”

Now she’s recovering from a hernia operation but hopes to build one or two more boats before the yard closes. She created a mosaic tile rendering of the 2500 for a former supervisor.

She was heartbroken to learn the plant will close. But she faces the future with confidence.

“When a door closes, a window opens somewhere,” she said.,

And she feels she has put her mental demons behind her.

“I hope one day people with mental illness will see it does not have to be a terminal door,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be forever.”

Si Cantwell covers the people and places that make Southeastern North Carolina unique. Contact him at 343-2364 or