A Beacon: ‘Let us be your allies’

Whatever mental struggles you’re battling, Daybreak is there to lift you up.

—Mari Fielder

For much of my life, I was resigned to total disability. It’s a common enough story in mental illness the world over. Medication would work, until it wouldn’t, or it would feebly work. Or it would even make things worse, which I found profoundly unfair. I’d get spontaneous periods where I’d be totally fine, sometimes in tandem with what I was trying, sometimes not. Had it been the meds, or going off them? Had it been the diet? Was I managing my stress right, or was I just getting enough exercise? More often than not, you never answer those questions.

Medication is a vital part of my success, but they’re not some magic new wonder-drugs. I have seen these same meds fail other people. And meds alone did not get me here. I had to learn acceptance; that the drugs weren’t always going to work. I won’t deny my own considerable efforts towards wellness, but none of this would have been possible without the people in my life.

Through some of my darkest times, I have had a loving wife who supports me unconditionally. From my wildest manic delusions, to my crushing lows, she was always there at my side, soothing my fevered brain. For up to several years at a time, I was often completely disabled, but she never made me feel like a burden.

And I could not have asked for finer friends than I have known. They fed me, they housed me, they drove me, and were always there when I needed them. They rode out my episodes with me, despite no prior experience. In a world of such profound misunderstandings for mental illness, I found the good ones.

My family and friends never gave up on me, no matter how many times I gave up on myself. No one can do the work for you, but they cleared the way for my eventual success. I don’t mean to suggest that my struggles are over. Mental health is an ongoing process, and I still have my bad days. This is simply the most stable I’ve been for the longest time. I don’t need nearly as much support as I used to, but I do still need it from time to time.

That segues nicely to JP Hitesman, my fellow staff member at Daybreak, and as fine an ally as you could ask for. Patient, focused, committed; it is a genuine pleasure to work with him. When he first asked me what brought me to this work, I had already decided that I would be completely open about my mental illness at Daybreak, so I gave him a condensed version. I doubt it was the answer he expected, but I felt immediately understood. JP has never skirted around my mental illness. As with our members, he accepts it as a part of me, without making it the sum total of who I am. Maybe that sounds simple, but many people have trouble with that, and it’s vital for this work. Sometimes, when my half of the Clubhouse has a lull, I’ll catch part of a conversation he’s having with one of our members and I’ll be struck by how lucky we all are to have him.

Professionally, our strengths complement each other. We intersect in many ways, but our differences allow us to cover more of our members’ needs. Some days, past our morning meeting we barely get more than a few words between us before the end of the day. And, yet, whenever JP has sensed I might need a little help, he has always been there. After I’ve had a mental health absence, he goes just that little bit further to help me find my stride. His support as a co-worker and an ally is a key part of my success at Daybreak.

I cannot speak on my success without Alicia Nicholson. She is the thread that binds Daybreak together, and has been for over eleven years. Every facet of the clubhouse bears her touch. Every member looks to her first. Whenever I’ve had to take a mental health absence, she always reassures me about them, easing my mind, giving me the space to recover. It’s often been with little warning, but she has only ever been understanding.

It is that deep understanding of mental illness that helps inform her management style. She acknowledges my limitations, plays to my strengths. She pushes me, but never more than I can handle. If I get a little lost or confused, she helps me find my way back. With her encouragement, I have thrived at Daybreak, far beyond what I once thought possible for myself.

With the right support, any one of us might thrive. If you’re struggling with mental illness, come to Daybreak. Let us be your allies.

Matthew Fielder, who lives in West Tisbury with his wife Mari, is a staff member at Daybreak Clubhouse, and a caregiver to his grandmother and great-aunt.


  1. this is an important column. another one of those wonderful spaces on the island that we don’t always know enough to fully appreciate. Thank you!

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