MHA Storyteller: Jim Dukes

Jim’s Story: In His Own Words
My life seems to be a repetitive series of knockout punches, a struggle to get off the mat, then back into the fight. From two blast injuries as bomb tech with the UN, to childhood abuse, being sober since 06, five TBIs, coming back from death three times, to business failures. I lost 12 friends to suicide, have made two attempts myself, but for some reason I’m still needed here. I’m visually disabled, have permanent neurological deficits and cope daily with chronic PTSD, anxiety and depression. I’m now a photographer and artist who teaches healing art workshops to veterans and their caregivers. I started my art journey as my healing outlet. I’m a dad to an incredible 15 year old son (pictured right with Jim). I guess I’m that person you contact when you need help or have to get something done, because I won’t be stopped.

What inspired you to join MHA as a volunteer?
Development Director Andrea Towner asked me to become a volunteer several years ago as a storyteller then I volunteered on the special events committee. The organization provides so many vital services and resources to so many in the community. I wanted to be there to help others like the people in my life helped me when I was struggling.

For how long have you been volunteering with MHA?
I’ve been a volunteer with MHA since 2017.

What motivated you to be a storyteller for MHA?
At first, it was the money, but then I thought money isn’t everything and so I began to volunteer my time instead. I’m kidding! I don’t know that there was one single motivator other than I responded. Yes, when I was asked to. That’s all it took for me.

What do you enjoy the most in volunteering with MHA?
Impact. I really didn’t think that my volunteering would have an impact. I hoped it would, but after speaking at several events, it became clearer that my life experience resonated with others. I enjoy being vulnerable in that way, which can be the catalyst for other peoples recovery and journey to thriving again.

What do you believe is the biggest mental health challenge in our society at this time?
I think that the biggest mental health challenge is for people to accept this lack of genuine connection with other humans. Social media has dumbed down communication to small bites of information to the point where most young adults have lost the ability to carry on a conversation face-to-face and or are scared to. GenX doesn’t know what to do with that because we can talk to people. So there’s this divide when you have a lack of genuine
connection through conversation. Community becomes distanced and you feel like you can’t rely on anyone around you. That could be frightening for some and can feel abandoning. As weird and uncomfortable as it feels I encourage everyone to speak to a stranger. “Hello! Hello, how are you doing? I hope you’re having a great day.” Something that lets this other person know they’re not alone in this digital world, but there’s other humans that see them in real life.

What message would you like to send to our readers? First, if you feel like you need help, ask for help! We want you to be the best you possible. Be patient and kind with yourself during your mental health journey. It’s not a straight shot. It’s not a trip from point A to point B without any interruptions and as I said YouTube video, you may think that you’re going to get on a flight from Charlotte to Atlanta and maybe have an hour delay, but this mental health journey may take you to Iceland for an extended period of time and have you of all over the place. Be gracious with yourself to allow that process to work for you.

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