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Together for mental health

Mental Health Con featured passionate advocates

September 29, 2019
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Passionate speakers and talented musicians came together this past weekend to send a message about the resources needed to alleviate the issues of mental health.

John McManamy was a featured speaker. McManamy is the creator of the long time web portal McMan's Depression and Bipolar Weekly and author of the Expert Patient series of books. After law school, McManamy became a financial journalist in Australia before a hospital stint at age 49 that resulted in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. After returning to the U.S., McManamy pursued knowledge of bipolar disorder and became a freelance writer. This work brought him to Connecticut, then the San Diego area. In 2016, a heart attack and the loss of his living situation brought him to a decision to take to the open road. Since 2017, McManamy has lived first in a Passat and now in a minivan outfitted as a camper. McManamy presented eight lessons from the road, including be your own hero, don't sweat the small stuff, you're stronger than you think, and find your tribe. McManamy also entertained on the Indian flute and his didgeridoo throughout the weekend, at one point laying down beats for Clinton Jennings Bydo's rhythmic poetry.

Bydo, a Ringsted resident, took charge of tech for the weekend on equipment borrowed from Chris Inman, who also helped with setup.

Article Photos

Friday night's small audience delighted to solo musician Derek Post, a regular at Lakes area venues, who sang covers and some original pieces. Post said he did not have a personal connection to mental health, but believes in the cause of ending the stigma.

With audiences remaining small throughout the weekend, Library Square turned into a set for a video, which will be released so other communities along with Estherville can run with the idea of a mental health con in future years.

Saturday, Deblyn Russell of Creative Connectionz led a meditation and a musical sing along. Russell also performed with her guitar and drums. Russell said getting in tune with one's creativity in whatever format can be beneficial to mental health.

MJ Berst of Minneapolis traveled to speak at Mental Health Con. Berst shared her story of a painful loss of a relationship and a recovery complicated by codependency and depression. Berst urged audience members to embrace who they are and find strength within. Berst said a group called Codependents Anonymous and a book, Codependent No More, helped her to recover her sense of self and realize, as McManamy had also learned, that she is stronger than she thought.

Leah Demarest of Flourishing Engagements in Newton took the stage in a bright red tee shirt emblazoned with the words, "Stigma Fighter." Demarest traveled to Estherville with her husband and son. Demarest told her story of abuse and feeling unloved in her family and events that ultimately led to a suicide attempt when she was 18. Demarest said she woke up in the ICU with her family surrounding her, hoping she would not die, but that her issues were never talked about again. Demarest read statements of stigma submitted by her patients and readers of her blog Driven by Mental Health and Sobriety. Her mental health issues led her to become a licensed therapist, and she said she would always fight the stigma against mental health issues.

Charlie Hong of Midwest Ketainfusion in eastern Iowa presented remotely a talk on ketamine infusions. Midwest Ketainfusion was a major sponsor of Mental Health Con. Hong and his partner, both registered nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, operate their clinic on their days off from working in hospital operating rooms. Hong said the clinic's passion is to treat patients and seek an answer to substantial remission of their depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or anxiety disorder. Because ketamine is used off label to treat mental health disorders, insurance doesn't cover it, but Hong said, "Let's get you treated and get you some relief and worry about the money later." Hong said he started the clinic with an ambition to prevent suicides after a close friend took their life.

A hip hop artist from Worthington, GunnerB, traveled to Estherville hopped up with his passion for mental health. Gunner told his story of a downward spiral after his mother, who had spent her life opening her home and heart to people who were having troubles, took her own life in 2010. He hopes to drop his EP with songs about his mother and about winning over struggles next year. Gunner said he is in recovery from a methamphetamine addiction but only after a stint in prison and rehab. Gunner has raised $1,500 for suicide prevention this year and says he plans to continue using his hip hop activism to prevent suicides.

Saturday night for Mental Health Con was spent in a smaller group conversation at Fort Defiance Lodge warming up with hot cocoa and coffees before a roaring fire.

Sunday morning, author and speaker Nichole Marbach presented her story of healing through faith at Iglesia Cristo de Poder at 7th St. and Second Ave. Marbach is a Christian speaker from Chicago who said she drove to Estherville to deliver a message of hope. After a childhood so abusive she thought fear and anxiety were normal states of being, Marbach said she became an alcoholic and habitual binge drinker at age 15. Discovering she was a gifted runner and breaking a school record her senior year that stood for over 25 years, along with life-affirming words from her track coach helped her stay on a good path despite her daily drinking. She earned a scholarship to college where she met her husband and they settled down with three children in the luxury high rises of Chicago.

"I tried to give my children everything I didn't have. I took a cab 20 minutes each way before every store had organic milk just to be sure my kids always had it," Marbach said. In the midst of being supermom, however, Marbach was disintegrating from the inside. She landed in a psychiatry unit, then rehab and a halfway house for months. After she returned home, she continued to struggle, throwing out pills and bottles of alcohol only to try to dig them out of the dumpster in her pajamas hours later as her neighbors watched, then shunned her.

"I felt like I was an outcast, but with God no one is an outcast," Marbach said.

Jennifer Astello of Estherville organized Mental Health Con for her management internship at Buena Vista University. Josie Moreau booked GunnerB for Saturday. Bydo operated sound and tech throughout the weekend. Excel Estherville Arts & Culture brought in the portable stage. The city of Estherville provided roadblocks, picnic tables, and auxiliary power. Estherville Public Library provided Library Square and other practical assistance. Chris Spaeth of Spirit Lake donated snacks. Papa's Smoked Meats and Big Acai Bowls food trucks were also in attendance.



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