Essay by Linda Fuglestad
This year, 2022, Alyssum quietly, but proudly, celebrates 11 years of being here in Vermont as the first peer-hosted alternative holistic crisis intervention and respite! In doing this work, we have been happy to celebrate our ongoing connection with our first ever guest from when we opened in 2011, a guest now known as Teddy Bear.
Teddy was our first guest when we were new and just finding our way as a pilot program, funded by the Vermont Department of Mental health, free to eligible Vermont residents in need. Since then, we have come a long way and learned a lot, and so, says Teddy, has he. Through ongoing supports, first during in-person short-term stays at Alyssum, warm line support calls and, in the last two years, in-person home visits, we have been thankful and privileged to maintain our connection with Teddy for 11 years as peers.
Teddy first came to Alyssum to work on challenges like depression, feeling isolated, and having conflicts with service providers. Through talking to peers here, and with space for self-reflection, over the years Teddy shares having regained some of his love of hobbies like crocheting, painting, photography and writing poetry.
Teddy strengthened skills to negotiate interpersonal conflicts and was a little better able to get his needs met in his community as well. We have some of Teddy’s photography on display, including an amazing portrait of our first emotional support dog, Lady, done by Teddy in an amazing likeness of her that we treasure. In future visits Teddy worked on gender identity and managing health concerns like diet changes and living with chronic pain and asking for support while juggling various community and medical providers, not all of them supportive.
Teddy shares, “A lot of those times, including my first visit, you literally saved my life. My first visit, I was so ready to kill myself and was unable to get help. A friend Melanie contacted Gloria [Alyssum’s executive director], then asked me to call [your program]. I did. Then I tried crisis to see about a referral and was told a harsh no. My therapist then called [Alyssum]. It was late and snowing really bad. I was told to please wait, someone was on their way. Get stuff I need together. I did, then later that same night Carl came and got me. Loaded my stuff. Told me I was going to a really nice place where I’d get help I needed. He also told me not to worry about the weather. That his truck was very good in bad weather and he was a very good driver. We got there safely and I met Seth. Good person for me to talk to. It saved my life.”
Since that first night, and through various staff changes, Alyssum has been blessed to have Teddy here more than once for special holidays and support visits and enjoyed doing crafts together along with opportunities for one-on-one time to talk through challenges as they have come up in his life. Our annual holiday tree is brighter with the beautifully crocheted ornaments Teddy made.
In the last two years, between the pandemic and decreased mobility, peer staff have been thankful to still be able to stay connected with Teddy via home visits to provide Teddy’s requested supports and much needed connection. We know Teddy misses our beautiful setting out in the country with birds chirping and blue skies, peaceful quiet, and the river nearby for a dip in hot weather, but Teddy confirms that this solution of home visits and Zoom calls being an option as a compromise has been so greatly needed and appreciated.
A multitude of changes have happened in the 11 years since Alyssum opened, with new ideas, updates, and the addition of our much beloved emotional support dog Prince. We have been blessed by many ongoing mental health-related trainings to keep us up to date with ways to offer more to guests. We treasure all of our past and present guests and are thankful for the long-term connections we make as peers, doing support calls on the phones or meeting new peers as they visit our program or having people come back to work on skills building, life challenges or feeling supported and safe in their body, their lives, their communities.
Teddy has been glad to be a part of our journey throughout all of these transitions, being here as needed to share his successes as well as process personal losses and grief over the years. Despite losing dear friends, or having to move to find a supportive community, we admire Teddy for staying loving, resilient, friendly and hopeful. Even though times get tough for him sometimes, he says he never gives up looking for a better way.
Throughout everything over the years, it has been wonderful to watch Teddy blossom and grow, unfolding into a new version of himself that he has embraced with love and kindness, all the while treasuring his love of helping others and having a connection with us, building relationships, and being an ongoing part of the Alyssum family. Staff has especially enjoyed over the years that, during a stay here, Teddy has always been up for an impromptu trip to the park for a concert or a diet coke or for his favorite ice cream cone or coffee at the bookstore in town. Although Teddy would definitely say that nothing could top his fond memories of coming to this area to have creemies with his Dad at Tozier’s Restaurant in Bethel, Vermont, as a kid growing up, longtime staff person Linda hopes that the night they made crème brûlée together in the middle of the night in the kitchen or blueberry pancakes at 3 a.m. might at least come close!
Teddy has many cool things he is known for, including playing the dulcimer, and sporting fashionable hats like berets and fedoras or standing out with cool hairstyles, colored pink, purple, blue or green, depending on what they fancy at the time. Wherever Teddy has lived, it has always touched our hearts at Alyssum to hear how he goes above and beyond helping friends and neighbors, doing nice things for people, even if his body hurts from it later, and always joyfully sending special surprise gifts to family and friends.
When not visiting Alyssum, Teddy has two quirky kitties, Cheeky and Howard, who love to steal his chair or get under his feet or lay in wait to dash out into the hallway of his apartment, just to keep life interesting. Teddy says, “I still I think there should be two or three more Alyssums throughout Vermont, even though I am frustrated that my physical and mental health limit my ability to visit right now due to the risk of being too far from medical providers if needed. I still have the hope of better mental and physical health, thanks to Alyssum support.”
Two of us at Alyssum were just blessed to be able to go visit Teddy in April for a home visit to bring him a special requested home-cooked lunch and birthday cake to celebrate a milestone birthday. We are so very thankful as peers in the holistic alternative mental health world to have flexible ways we can stay connected with all of our guests, whenever possible, but in particular, right now, we celebrate and treasure the meaningful memories and connection built with our very first guest, Teddy, who began our peer journey with us since the beginning 11 years ago! It has been 11 years of support, mutual respect and connection. Thank you to Teddy for being our first ever guest! Happy 11 years and counting!
Interested in learning more about our program? Check out our website and Facebook page or ask if you’d like brochures. Alyssum Inc., Rochester, VT (802)-767-6001, alyssum.org.