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Mentally aware: Worthington’s Nelson happy in life thanks to help, finding positives

WORTHINGTON -- May be National Mental Health Awareness Month, but for Robin Nelson of Worthington, that awareness is important all year.Nelson has overcome numerous obstacles to become significantly happier than she was 20-plus years ago. She has...

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Robin Nelson displays some of her art while at work at Arby’s in Worthington “Most people, if they look hard enough, they can find something positive in their life, and there are people out there that can help people find those things,” she said. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - May be National Mental Health Awareness Month, but for Robin Nelson of Worthington, that awareness is important all year.
Nelson has overcome numerous obstacles to become significantly happier than she was 20-plus years ago. She has traveled a challenging road, but a move to Worthington, help from others and a job in what she says is a positive working environment have all been beneficial.
“Most people, if they look hard enough, they can find something positive in their life, and there are people out there that can help people find those things,” Nelson said. “I would also suggest … that faith does play a very big role in it. I don’t get to church every Sunday, but I still have a strong faith and that’s very important. God puts us on whatever path we’re on for some reason.”
Nelson’s path in life began to get significantly more difficult after her divorce in 1993, she said.
“I got very depressed and anxious and not wanting to do anything,” she remembered.
“My social worker had noticed it, and she sent me to see a doctor. … I was living in Jackson at the time. The diagnosis came pretty quickly because I told them what was going on.” 
That diagnosis, depression and anxiety, resulted in a prescription for various medications that helped make a difference for Nelson. About five or six years later, though, her mental health began to take another turn for the worse, and she began having ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatments over a period of two to three years. ECT is a procedure, done under general anesthesia, in which small electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure.
“I hadn’t gotten of my meds,” Nelson said. “There was just a lot going in my life. I just wasn’t very happy with life.”
Nelson had ECT treatments while staying in a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital, then returned home and traveled to Sioux Falls every other week to undergo them.
“It’s very scary and you don’t know what’s going on while you’re having that ECT,” she explained. “I saw a picture of one on TV once, about six months ago, on ‘Law and Order SVU,’ and it brought back all those memories of those ECT treatments.”

More to overcome

In the first part of 2000, Nelson learned she had breast cancer, which she recalled ultimately led to problems with occasional hallucinations.
“Going through breast cancer is very difficult and it was hard on my mental health because I was all alone and had no family or anybody around,” she said. “It got so I hated life so bad while I was living in Jackson, and I moved to Las Vegas and lived there for five months with my twin sister. That didn’t work out.”
Nelson decided to return to southwest Minnesota, and through a phone book wound up contacting Sunshine Apartments. She soon secured a residence there, and saw the chance to a new yet familiar community as an opportunity for a fresh start.
“It was January 2012 that I moved to Worthington, and in April 2012 I got my job at Arby’s (where she continues to work today as a cashier),” Nelson said. “That was thanks to The Achievement Center; they really helped me.”

A big benefit

Nelson points out that she doesn’t take the same amount of medications as she once did. One reason for that: a gastric bypass surgery she underwent in 2012.
“One reason my mental illness was so bad was because I felt so bad about myself because of my weight,” she stated. “I had the gastric bypass and lost 120 pounds, and after that I felt better. I became more outgoing at work, I wasn’t afraid to talk to customers ... and they took me off a lot of my meds because my body didn’t need that much. It was very nice to get off a lot of the meds.
“There were not many bad side effects,” she went on. “I just told myself, ‘I’m going to do this, and I’m going to make a change in my life and it’s going to be for the better.’ Today I still have some mental health issues, see a therapist weekly, and my focus is very good at helping me and so is my health-care coach. I’ve been taught that I’m a strong person, and that I have gone through a lot in life. Having a mental illness is not the worst thing there is.”
Nelson noted that she benefits from an ARHMS (adult rehabilitative mental health services) worker from Southwest Mental Health Center. Her ARHMS worker helps through simple conversation.
“The best thing is honesty because if they don’t know what you’re dealing with, they cannot help you,” she said. “If you don’t tell them the truth, they really don’t know how to help you.”

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‘Out of my shell’

Nelson has found coloring to assist her overall well-being, and she has also begun writing a book. She had started a writing project while living in Jackson titled “A Time to be Reborn,” but she said that “brought up too much stuff about my life that wasn’t good.” Since relocating to Worthington, she ha s spent time writing “I Came Out of My Shell.”
“It talks about the positive changes that I’ve made and how everybody’s helped me,” she detailed. “Since I moved to Worthington … I have just found so many people that have been so supportive.”
Among the many that Nelson said have helped here are Mike Dempster at The Achievement Center, Erika Freking of Sanford Worthington, health care coach Tonya Bruns and a SWMC therapist. She also credits her boss at Arby’s, Victoria Stearns, for helping her become more comfortable and confident in the workplace, and having the ability to recognize “when I’m having a bad day, or if something’s wrong.”
So, what advice would Nelson offer to someone struggling with mental health issues of their own?
“I would tell them to look to the future and to find somebody that they can trust and talk to and be honest with and find some things that make them happy,” she said. ”I have my artwork and my writing, but I also have a daughter who is a captain in the Air Force and a son who graduated this month from Creighton University who is going to go on and be an oral surgeon. I have five grandchildren.
“You just have to make the most out of what you have.”

Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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