At the close of the recent RESPECT Institute graduation, Lezlie Poole (pictured right) a certified peer specialist and lead facilitator for the event, closed the morning with a thought-provoking speech. In her remarks, Lezlie shared the reason she went into the field of mental health. She will share her speech on local radio (WISK) in the coming days. We thought we’d also share her words with our readers.
I am often asked why I chose the field of mental health.
Why I chose a career in a field that is full of long hours and hard work.
And the answer is always the same…
Because of the after.
The concept of after has been a big part of my life. Like what happens to a family after a trauma? I learned that after can be a scary and lonely place.
But I also have learned that the after can be full of hope.
The after can be positive.
The after can be what we make it.
I met Cory the first day of 7th grade. He walked up to me and said we were going to be friends, and my first reaction was there is no way I am going to be friends with this crazy guy, who came to the first day of school, in August, wearing a leather jacket.
But Cory was never one to take no for an answer and, true to his word, he became one of my closest friends. He was my confidante, the cheerleader, and told me to always challenge myself.
So we continued through middle school and high school. And I assumed that our after high school plans would include going to college together. But shortly before graduation, Cory told me that his after high school plans did not include going to college with me. He was joining the Navy.
I was angry because I felt like I was losing my best friend. So I started my first day of college, and this time after high school was scary and lonely. But Cory always saw the bigger picture. And in the first class of my freshman year of college, a tall, long- haired guy came up to me and said, “Are you Lezlie?”
I nervously shook my head and said yes.
This guy smiled and said, “Cory told me you were starting college and that we should be friends.”
Nigel was that tall, long-haired guy, and we celebrated our 10-year anniversary in December.
Cory did return home after four years away, and I held on my anger and did not speak to him during those four years. But one day shortly after he returned home, I pulled in my driveway after a long day, and there was Cory sitting on my front porch. He came up to me and asked where had I been, and he had been waiting on me to get home for what seemed like forever.
And there we were, as if the last four years did not happen. But in my longing to pick up our friendship where it had left off, I failed to see the toll the last four years had taken on him. And on September 16, 2011, Cory took his life.
His death shook us. He was the best of us. He made us want to be better. And, best of all, he made us laugh. In the aftermath of his death, I couldn’t accept that I would go on and not do something… for him. To help in creating a legacy of what he meant to me. So I did something.
I worked hard… and it was hard work, but I did it.
So yes, the field of mental health is full of so many long hours and there is never a shortage of the hard work that is needed to be done, but…I do it. Because I can help in showing the after doesn’t have to be scary or lonely. The after can be full of hope. The after can be what we choose to make it.
So let’s, as a community, start a conversation, lessening the stigma, and helping make the after better.