Marian Bacon is the person on the other end of the phone line who saves people’s lives.
She does it by listening compassionately and giving soothing advice.
Today, the local Crisis Center volunteer is in Los Angeles for the 2009 Voice Awards for her work as a mental health advocate. She and four other individuals from throughout the United States will receive Consumer Leadership Awards from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Bacon credits some tough love from a senior citizen volunteer for helping her rise above victimhood. Bacon lives with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress syndrome and is haunted by the memories of having been a sexually abused child. She draws on that experience to help others.
Kick in the ‘bootstraps’
For most of her life, the 41-year-old woman couldn’t even help herself.
“I met a lady named Helen Adamo,” Bacon said. “My mental illness was really bad and I was feeling sorry for myself. One day, she just told me that I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself. She basically kicked me in the bootstraps and told me I needed to get a grip on myself.
“From then on, I learned how to manage my mental illness. Don’t get me wrong; I have days that my mental illness is not perfect, but I have good days.”
Adamo, who is 81 and moved from Memphis eight years ago to the Bolivar, Tenn., area, did not know about Bacon’s achievements until contacted by The Daily News. She said she always knew Bacon had great potential because she was “such a nice person.”
Adamo was one of the first volunteers for the Memphis office of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) when it opened in the early 1980s.
Adamo said she gave Bacon pep talks when driving her home after NAMI meetings.
“I’ve raised five children, and I’ve found out that was the best way to talk to teenagers, was in a car,” she said. “That’s where you are a lot of the time. You can’t get their attention anywhere else. Marion was trying to take classes on her own and had been through a trying childhood and growing-up process. But hey, she was a young woman and it was time to get with it.”
Five years ago, Bacon became a volunteer like Adamo. Two years ago, she got her first job. Now, she’s pursuing an associate’s degree in social work from Southwest Tennessee Community College.
“Before I volunteered, I never worked or did anything,” she said.
Bacon has done so much in such a short time that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,
which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is honoring her.
Besides working full time for the Memphis Center for Independent Living, Bacon volunteers as a crisis counselor for people who are dealing with suicidal impulses, emotional issues, mental illness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, homelessness and grief.
Bacon also devotes time to NAMI and the Tennessee Mental Heath Consumers Association. She opens up about the private demons of having been raped repeatedly by foster brothers and finding recovery with NAMI’s “In Our Own Voice,” a public education program.
“I just inform people that you can get better, but I was told I would never be able to work,” she said. “Now I do work.”
Someone who witnessed Bacon telling her story offered her a job at the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association. That job led to her current employment as a counselor at the Memphis Center for Independent Living. The organization is devoted to helping people with disabilities be independent.
However, Bacon admits it was a struggle to step outside to begin helping others.
“It was hard actually getting myself motivated,” she said. “Helen Adamo was still in the office every day encouraging me. She was like a mother figure.”
The volunteer work that is the most difficult for Bacon is dealing with suicidal people on the telephone.
“I used to be in that boat,” she said. “I’m a suicide survivor.”
Bacon attempted suicide the first time at age 10 by cutting herself. That background is crucial to understanding and having empathy for people who call the Richard G. Farmer and Allen O. Battle Crisis Center.
The nonprofit entity, which is funded by the United Way of the Mid-South, was spun off from Family Services of the Mid-South, which closed Oct. 1.
“I like volunteering at the Crisis Center because I’m able to help others by sharing my story and telling them there’s a way out because I’ve been there, done that,” Bacon said.
“There is help down the road. They usually listen. I’ve had a couple of close calls on the phone, where I’ve had to use two telephones, where I’ve had to call the police on one phone and talk to the person on the other phone – when they don’t know I’m calling the police, which is sort of hard to do. It’s hard to try to help somebody who don’t want to be helped, but I still do it.”...