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Turning adversity into strength

Years after mental breakdown, Hinds goes public to help others.

Longtime Morris resident Elizabeth Hinds is an example of turning adversity into strength and a role model to an underrepresented and often falsely represented community: the mentally ill. After being a successful lawyer married to a professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, she experienced a quite unexpected mental breakdown at the age of 45. Her first episode occurred when she suddenly imagined herself receiving bizarre commands, and following them, impulsively drove to Minneapolis only to fall asleep in her car. Her extremely concerned husband eventually found and retrieved her. Eight years later, she decided to go public and let her story be known, to serve as an example for others to come out of the shadows and reclaim their lives as she had. “When my husband retired I decided to fight the stigma and tell them my story.” “I had a normal childhood,” she says, “in the sense that everybody has problems and it’s rare not to have any. We kind of struggled financially, as my dad was a schoolteacher, and we didn’t have much money. We had a youngest sister who was mildly autistic, which problem they kept away from us but not the fact that she had to repeat a year in school and they kept saying that she was perfectly normal. My mom was in denial, which caused some problems in the family, but it was a normal childhood.” “I was born in California during WWII in a navy hospital, but I grew up my first 18 years in Vancouver, Wash., which is near Portland, Ore., and nowhere near Vancouver, Canada. “It was, in those days, a town of 50,000 and just far away enough from Portland to be a bedroom community. I went to a public school and had two sisters. My dad was a schoolteacher, and my mom a homemaker. I did well in school, and I read a lot and was interested in intellectual pursuits. I got a scholarship and was admitted to a very good university in Chicago where I met my husband. “We got in trouble for violating college rules by staying out all night. He was a fellow student, although he had dropped out a year but was working on campus and intending to come back to school. We got in trouble and our scholarships were taken away, so we went to the University of Oregon. “He picked me out of the freshman directory, thought I was a cute girl and from Vancouver. We went back to Oregon and thought we could afford continuing school. It turned out there wasn’t enough money for both of us to stay in school at first. Harold was of draft age, so I dropped out for a year and Harold continued. We both got good enough grades to get scholarships the next year, so we continued on with school. “He went on to graduate school in Vanderbilt, and I went along with and had a kid, then we went down to South America to do his research. We were there for two years with a baby and some adventures and learned Spanish in Bogota, Columbia. There were no drugs there in those days, and this was 1970. It was interesting to learn about the Third World and see how different but yet how much the same we all are.” Her very unusual form of mental illness struck at a very unusual age: “The telltale signs are delusions, believing things that are manifestly untrue and paranoia. In my case, I ran away from home. It’s complete psychosis at one time, in other words completely crazy. I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is when you have highs and lows, and they thought that I certainly didn’t have schizophrenia because that comes in the 20s but bipolar disorder comes in the 20s too. So why are both my dad and I getting it at age 45? It turns out that in all the years I have never cycled through that high and low business. We have changed my diagnosis to mood disorder not otherwise specified. It’s not specified in the psychiatrist’s manual. I call it a familial idiopathic [meaning not very many people have it] mood disorder.” As part of her proactive stance, she is a member of the Stevens County Local Advisory Committee on Mental Health. For years, she hosted meetings at the Mental Health Drop In Center (15 East 2nd St. in Morris). She is an advocate for the parity of mental illness with other physical diseases, directly petitioning state senators and representatives in St. Paul for greater access of health coverage. She has had a very full life. She has contributed to the fullness of others’ lives in Stevens County. And with plans of moving back to Portland, her life is sure to remain fulfilling.

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