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Mental Health & Substance Abuse Recovery for Seniors

Episode #73August 24, 2021


The field of peer support has grown in many mental health and substance abuse treatment systems. Peer Support Specialists draw upon their own life experiences, like mental health and substance use concerns, distress, poverty, and oppression, on the one hand, and experiences of recovery and resilience, on the other.¹ They use their lived experience to help build connections to others with similar shared experiences and treatment.

The fact that peer specialists share many similar experiences with the clients they serve means that they are able to understand clients in a way that is real and empathetic enabling meaningful connections.¹

Today, I interview Jim Klasen, Certified Older Adult Certified Peer Specialist, who shares his personal experiences with mental health and substance use recovery and ways in which he is using his lived experience to help others.

Here’s a peek into the episode with Jim Klasen:

  • Jim shares his own experience with mental health and substance use concerns
  • What recovery means to Jim
  • Jim defines the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)
  • Jim’s process of becoming a Certified Older Adult Peer Specialist
  • How Jim worked to repair relationships with his (adult) children
  • Recommendations for older adults struggling with their own mental health concerns
  • The role of music in Jim’s healing process.

Jim Klasen

Jim Klasen is an Advanced Level Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Facilitator and Certified Older Adult Certified Peer Specialist trainer. He brings over 40 years of experience from the workforce development field. Jim has worked with youth, welfare recipients, persons returning home from prison, and persons impacted by trauma, mental health, and substance-related challenges. As a Certified Peer Specialist, Jim brings lived experience sharing his recovery journey openly as evidence that recovery and wellness are both possible and probable. His journey has led naturally to his “encore career” as a facilitator of peer support.


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Jim Klasen 0:00

Yeah, it's so part of it is on the older adults, right? You have to, you know, reach out and want that and it's it's, it's hard to look at, but I think part of the responsibility is for family members and society or groups that endeavor to do this. Then you have to reach out. you have to say, you know, the John Prine song, "Hello in there"? You have to say hello in there. And and keep doing it. I think sometimes in our world of help is like, well, I offered my help and they didn't want it. No, you're like a beacon. You're like a lighthouse that that message has to keep going out. Keep going out periodically when the light comes around, and it beams and that's what recovery. That's was the recovery process for me. Wasn't that there was ... Finally, I don't know somebody must have said something. I know what it was. That got to me.

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:05

I'm Dr. Regina Koepp. I'm a clinical geropsychologist, which means that I'm a psychologist who specializes with older adults and families. And this is the Psychology of Aging Podcast, your go to resource for Mental Health and Aging.

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:27

Each week, I have the incredible honor of interviewing experts in the field of mental health and aging, neurology, neuropsychology. And then also people with lived experience. Lived experience is an interesting term because we all have lived experience. Today I'm interviewing Jim Klasen. Jim is an advanced level wellness recovery action plan facilitator and certified older adult peer specialist trainer. He brings over 40 years of experience from the workforce development field, and has worked with youth welfare recipients people returning home from prison, and persons impacted by trauma Mental Health and Substance related challenges. As a certified peer specialist, Jim brings his own lived experience sharing his recovery journey openly as evidence that recovery and wellness are both possible and achievable. His journey has led to his encore career he calls it as the facilitator of peer support for other older adults who are experiencing mental health and substance use conditions. This is a really tender episode and in our conversation Jim and I talk about our experiences with mental health. And Jim also talks about the importance of music and his own recovery. And at the very end sings a beautiful song. And I have to tell you, this song is so sweet. It's so warm and loving.

Dr. Regina Koepp 3:16

Yesterday or this week, my six year old she has a severe dairy allergy and accidentally drank some of her little brother's cow milk. And we had to be in the hospital for a day, which was pretty intense. We had to give her an epi pen and then take her to urgent care at urgent care. We had to give another epi pen because she was having trouble breathing and her had a lot of gi issues. And and then we had to take an ambulance to the Children's Hospital and be monitored for 24 hours she's home and fine. She returned to school. Dairy allergies and other food allergies are no joke. But as we were resting in the hospital room, I was editing this podcast and I played Jim's song out loud for Lena. And that's my six year olds name. And my husband and Lena asked to play the song again because she thought it was so soothing and comforting. And so Thanks, Jim for soothing and comforting my little one with your beautiful music. Jim shares at the end of this episode a beautiful song and so I hope you listen all the way through to get to that glory of that masterpiece. All right, let's jump into the interview with Jim Klasen.

Dr. Regina Koepp 4:37

I first learned about you at the National Council on Aging at their fourth annual older adults mental health awareness symposium. And you had a brief segment there and your warmth and honesty and your focus on wellness was so delightful. I thought, well, I need to interview you. I need to hear more about your story. So thanks so much for being here.

Jim Klasen 5:07

Sure, thanks.

Dr. Regina Koepp 5:09

Will you tell us a little bit about you like where you grew up and where you live now who's in your family?

Jim Klasen 5:15

Sure. Yes. So I grew up, north of Syracuse, actually, sort of sort of semi rural, it would still would have been then, you know, post World War Two, born in 1949. And yeah, I grew up in North Syracuse, or picture Hill actually, is what it's called, spent a lot of time on a night a lake. So kind of a rural upbringing. Had a mother and a father, my father was much older than my mother, and kind of focused around business things. So, you know, those little father issues probably, you know, persist it. In 1955, he converted our house into a motel, if you remember those, like fat flat top motels that you saw in the 50s. Or maybe you still see them in the, in the countryside. So we kind of grew up in this family business. So to escape the rigors of cleaning hotel rooms, and mowing the lawn and all of that. And probably other things. I spend as many as many weekends as I could with my, with my grandparents and, and we Regina, we talked about this a little bit earlier, right? Just this affinity closeness with older adults and what they their unconditional love for me. And, and we were certainly, you know, they were factory workers. So we're not talking about coming from money or anything like that, but just the love, you know, the humor, the acceptance and, and as I look back on it, the blessings of of growing up as a kid in the 50s in the net, but country country, but you know, just a lot of a lot more freedom than I think kids maybe experienced today. struggled, started to struggle, some around those middle school years, socially and academically. And then very fortunately, was able to go to a high school that was really very supportive. And instrumental was one of the sort of benchmarks or states in the ground that I would say, you know, you know, helped me went to college, went to lemoyne College and Syracuse did okay, I was, I would actually, if looking back now I was depressed, but I didn't know that I was, you know, experiencing depression, my sister knew she was in my sister who's a year and a half younger than me was actually in the hospital back then, electroshock therapy, and, you know, so trying to support her and, and all of that. So, you know, increasingly, like in the 20s, you know, graduated from college got married, and then sort of my stuff started coming out. pharma, you know, mental health and behavioral health kinds of things, which, you know, includes the depression, which may be a family trait, but perhaps not sure exactly. How that works and self medicating, which on the end, that aspect of my story only got worse. I have to confess. I will say, though, early on, I, I knew something was up something was wrong, and did seek help. But I'm not sure back then or where I lived, that folks knew what help looked like or professional help. And certainly, we know and I know, you've dealt with this, too. It's a stigma and prejudice, not just with older adults with just around just saying mental health is, is an issue, right? Rather than just health. And health includes all of these aspects and even these aspects that interact with one another, but it's this dualistic world that we still live in, I guess it's like, so if you say mental health that's, that's a problem and it brings up all kinds of things. So it's not something I discussed with friends or family, but I did know that that you know that something was a had a successful career. In human services always work. You know, probably Oh my goodness. Now you're reminding me of all kinds of threads are themes that I don't think about on a day to day basis. Most of my work was with young people, quote, unquote. And again, we get into this the jargon, the labels that we use, and labels are for jars, right? It's one of the slogans we say around here, but quote unquote, disadvantaged youth, whatever that means, economically, you know, not doing well academically, you know, maybe high school dropouts or kids at risk of that. So after school jobs, mentoring, GED programs, Conservation Corps, urban cores, work in teams, that, that kind of that was, that was my career, and just so much, really a terrific career. But so many, but my secret lives, plural, you know, did, you know certainly managed to follow me and, and create all manner of, you know, difficulties. Interestingly, not so much a little bit with work, but not so much it was fortunate there. I mean, a lot of my friends who maybe had drug issues or whatever, you know, certainly affected their employability. For me, it certainly affected family life. Because it's very difficult for families to understand some of the things that we go through emotionally understanding those things as a, as a health concern, and not betrayal. Or why are you doing this to us? Or what, you know, that that kind of thing? Yeah.

Dr. Regina Koepp 11:48

Will you say more about the secret lives that you mentioned?

Jim Klasen 11:52

Well, I think that the depression itself was the secret life. And, and you can probably tell from my effect, and let's just, this is an easy going cheerful guy, everything, it's all good in the neighborhood, you know, what, what's the problem and, and, and I was pretty good at doing that, right. And I call that, you know, with some kind of cynicism or sarcasm now is playing make believe, you know, and I really got tired of playing make believe, but the make believe was that everything's okay. And I'm a hard worker, and I've got an I'm doing this great work, and I was, and I was treating myself with various substances that I thought made me feel better. And maybe they did, you know, I'm not saying that those things don't work, they actually do sometimes for 15 minutes, and then the consequences are worse than the problem that you're trying to solve. So some of those early you know, behaviors, I've tried probably trying to cope with the depression, as is what it was, right, get get high. And, you know, and all of that I'm, I'm not a professional musician, but I've played guitar and saying, since I was 13, and it's really one of the things that's another one of those kinds of stakes in the ground that really stuck with me very, very well. But you know, along with that can be kind of some hanging out that might not have it may not have been, you know, all that healthy. So that's what I mean by by secret lives, this is using drugs and the imaginations of doing that of having to sneak off of disappearing for maybe several days being on a real a real role or whatever. And I say that that drug use got worse over time with more serious drugs and just talking about you know, smoking some weed and then you know, playing the guitar with friends talking about drug use that over time really becomes very isolated. Just it's not a social thing and and and it's almost kind of left like people say well, we were you want to party as but it may have been a party for three months or six months after that. It was work and, and took me years to then that's why I say it took me six months to get was was probably the worst worst of my, my great urban adventure here in Philadelphia. I guess I missed that part of the story. moved to Philadelphia in 86 just in time to get into some real trouble for a country kid. And even folks on th street that would say, dude, you ain't built for this, you're gonna last about six months, you know, they were about right, it was about six months of heavy usage. And then 13 years to get myself unscrewed from that. And the unscrewing is interesting, because still, then we talked about recovery as is meaning like drugs and alcohol, right back in the day. That's all that it meant. The meaning is now recovery is kind of expanded out pandemic proportions even. But back then it kind of meant that and that's really what was presenting. You know, people wanted me to stop using, they wanted me to be good. And it wasn't it was in those 13 years. What what was required is to figure out that this is more than just that. Because I could quit

Dr. Regina Koepp 16:00

more than substance use, there was something (underneath)...

Jim Klasen 16:03

Sure. I could stop for a couple of months stop for two years, not for five years, really? Because not kidding, what is going on underneath. And it's not until some very good people and I'm talking about professional people understood that this isn't one thing. You're not just a quote unquote, you're not just a drug addict. And we tried to have in our, our person first language and recovery oriented, oriented language, we try to avoid the kind of things but you know, Hi, I'm Jim, I'm a drug. Right kind of thing. That was the certainly the presenting issue. But there was all kinds of emotional family stuff in history, that that went underneath that that I'm still unpacking, I'm not saying that I've unpacked all of that. But, but that needed to be to have anything that looked like wellness and recovery over a more substantial period of time.

Dr. Regina Koepp 17:07

There is so much I want to follow up with you on Can you say more about what your red flags of depression were? What were your own symptoms of depression, I kind of like to think of, you know, we have this criteria for depression. And then I think we all carry what those of us who experienced depression or another mental health condition, kind of, it's like, we have our own fingerprint of our mental health concerns. You know, I've had my own history of depression, it hasn't looked like I thought, even as a mental health provider, like I thought it should look. And, and I think it's my own my own fingerprint. So what is your fingerprint?

Jim Klasen 17:46

Well, but I think it's so, so true, what you're saying, I'm just thinking of these sort of diagnostic or clinical words that we use, and I mean, when you bring it up for me, it's just how lacking how they don't, they're not terribly descriptive. Right, because it probably because it's trying to describe a whole range of ways that that it might manifests itself in people. I guess, you know, saying depressed, was depressed. Yeah, absolutely fatigued, you know, so exhausted. You know, just I eviscerated even just to the extent of like, just feeling like gone. So. Not being able to get out of bed, not being able to eat, not being able to, you know, to wash. So, that kind of physical and emotional just spent done. I gave it the office, but, you know, kind of exhaustion, but the other part of it from for me doing relationships headed to with isolation, not wanting to connect with people. You know, so that is and that's a horrible conundrum there. Right? Because say, absolutely, what you need is human connection and comfort nurturing, understanding, and, and it just feels like every nerve in your body is such that I don't, don't need Please don't ask me how I'm doing. For one thing. It's just too much. So that is probably that probably just describes it and then and as I say I look for professional help. I also looked for You know, my own sort of self medication because it did offer some, at least temporary respite and escape, but also meant more secret life, too, because then people would might question my behavior. We can't have that.

Dr. Regina Koepp 20:20

There's a saying everybody has a page in the DSM. For listeners, the DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose people and we all have a page in the DSM. As we were preparing for this interview, I asked you what is recovery mean to you? And you had shared kind of multiple definitions of recovery? Can you can you talk a little bit about that now?

Jim Klasen 20:47

First of all, I think I fussed about the word recovery, because being 72 years old, and being in a recovery process for not only successfully I might add, but in a recovery process for a very long time. Back in the day recovery meant, you know, just one thing, if you said you were a person in recovery meant it was drugs and alcohol, right. And that was the sort of the euphemism for it. And and again, like what we just shared about depression is this recovery is describing what recovering what because some folks would say, Listen, I never had it to begin with. So I don't know what you think I'm recovering. And also, when I explained to you I had a heart attack, right, so, so we're recover. I mean, I just believe that if the word has any value, it does in the broadest sense of the meaning that we're all recovering from some loss from a head cold, from COVID. From substance use a loss of a friend or relative, a loved one. You know, in that since we're all recovering, and, and I think I said to you also that, and I know we're going to talk about wrap the wellness recovery action plan is that I kind of embrace that. Because that was about well, it is wellness recovery, but I latched on to that first word. So rather than describing myself, I'm a person in recovery. And then, you know, you got to go down that rabbit hole. What does that mean? Right. But I'm a person in, in, in wellness, that's what I want. In my life, that's what I aspire to. And that's what I tried to practice is, is being a person in wellness.

Dr. Regina Koepp 22:52

I so appreciate your critical thinking about that term for to help us all think about it more deeply. You know, people with dementia cannot recover from cannot reclaim neurocognitive functioning, right. Generally, it's a degenerative condition, but you can have wellness living with a degenerative condition.

Jim Klasen 23:16

No, absolutely you can. You can still have what we really really need, which is connection. Yeah, you know, just an addiction and then we can go to Alzheimer's. Do you know Gabor Mate? You know, he's my guy, saw him in person just blew me away. So he is it's just, it's hanging up over here over my dead addiction, the opposite of connection. And that, I think, and I don't know, maybe it's probably not for everybody. But that's what it was. For me. It was the abject loneliness that disconnection with other people lack of, you know, a genuine connection with other people. And in terms of recovery or wellness or getting better, it was through connections.

Dr. Regina Koepp 24:10

Well, tell us about that. Tell us about you had it sounds like since high school, maybe experienced depression, then following that found a way to self medicate through substances that added more chaos and harm and then multiple lives. And, and then there was a 13 year process of working toward wellness. So we just say wellness in lieu of recovery.

Jim Klasen 24:38


Dr. Regina Koepp 24:39

working toward optimal health. So So what was the inspiration you're saying? It was too painful to lack connection and what was the inspiration to to move toward health and wellness, mental health and wellness

Jim Klasen 24:59

well, I think it does relate to those connections. And it does relate to, there was always it wasn't like I was clueless, right maybe, like we say, Well, he's clue probably people and said exactly that. But that wasn't true, I knew that there was something else I knew something was missing, or that something was, I hate to say wrong, but that something was, you know, was off. And in and head, for some reason had not had hope, had some sort of underlying seed of hope that had been planted. And I know, I talked about the role of my grandparents, and my life and a great aunt and uncle also. So there were I know, we're getting to the older adult thing, right, which I am now I'm their age now I'm older than they were. Right when they were I thought they were, they were. But that that those connections, there was something there that that stayed with me over time that I that I knew that existed. And it's so that was part of it, and others is, I mean, I talked about, you know, the exhaustion, the evisceration of depression, just the whole thing. Got to just be too much. And I told you about where we talked about like sort of the secret lives, plural thing and just the loneliness, the isolation, the fatigue of playing make believe you know of having a work life and I'm pretending to have a family life that looked good on the surface. Oh, this looked really good. The suffering was on the inside and who do you share that withthat wants to even hear it? So that led me to search to see can I say Initially, it was professional help. And I do say this in my work now because we work with both professionals and we're peers people with lived experience. Now lived experience becomes this other euphemism, right. So in my crew if you say lived experience, we know what that means, right? (laughing)

Dr. Regina Koepp 27:36

Well say more about that.

Jim Klasen 27:39

See this is why I just fuss so much at language. Not that I have a better language for it but it's all it is euphamism? lived experience? Aren't we all...we are hopefully we're all having a lived experience right for a while anyway. Until we don't. So it just becomes this euphemistic way of saying this is someone who's experienced really big feelings, difficult emotions, has had traumatic experiences or losses in their life that affect them in ways that probably dismayed them as much as it may be, you know, their family or loved ones. Jim, Why do you act this way? Well, because something's going on, I guess. Right? So I was always thought that there was something to go after. So thank goodness, you know, you know, for that. And

Dr. Regina Koepp 28:44

What do you suppose your grandparents implanted in you or gave you, you you attribute them to being part of your healing journey.

Jim Klasen 28:57

Yeah, Well. they were a respite from a home situation. That was not horrible, but difficult enough. That again, this is my best instincts. Right? I mean, this isn't my bad coping. This is my good coping is that I need to go stay with my Nana and grandpa this weekend. And I loved them. They were they I really don't know they're, I wish I knew their backstory. I wish I had questions for them now. First of all, the humor, my grandmother in appropriately outrageously food, say things that were to were just funny, and but they were also very, they were very accepting and non judge non judgmental. Certainly of kids behave, I guess they'd raised for their own. So by the time I came along, it was like, you know, whatever, whatever. But they know but I shouldn't word it that way. I mean, these were good. Sort of, you know, German back Crown. I mean, it was it was that strict, strict, but, you know, you knew what the boundaries were, but helping my grandfather in his garden, and that's something that I've, you know, always still been in love with. And just they're, I mean, they weren't effusively or overly emotional loving, but you knew that they were loving that they loved you that they had you that, that I was perfectly, you know, at home there, and I just loved being with them. They were my, my mother's parents, and we and we were close, they, you know, visited that we probably had dinner at our house, you know, all of those traditions of the 50s, you know, spaghetti on Thursday night and, you know, dinner on Sunday. And, you know, and they would be there my great aunt and uncle to my grandmother's sister. And it was, it's it sort of held up, I guess, sort of an ideal of what family life could be that, you know, that kind of connection. The other thing I want, I did want to say is, you know, on the seeking professional help, so I thought that's what I needed to do. And I did and I did even in my 20s I knew, but I don't think back then they quite knew what was up with me. I don't know, I don't think it was that complicated. But they didn't or, or we didn't figure that out together, which I think is the other aspect. Right? Trying to find somebody who's going to cure me, is probably not going to work but finding someone to work with, can we can we talk or learn about you, and maybe we can work together towards some solution. So I knew I needed you know, professional help. That's cool. Got it. And I work with professionals now. Right? Even in the pure world, we work with their supervisors that may be clinicians as well as appears and so I trained supervisors, which I think was this is the most preposterous thing they're gonna look at me is like one of their patients or something, but I'm going to train them about supervising CPS. So to get over that, what I usually do is thank them, first of all, thank you. Because there were times in my life, I needed your help, I needed professional help. It was necessary. It was not sufficient. is the issue. What is sufficient is what we're talking about here peer support. So what's life after professional health how you know what new relationships what new connections or renewed connections, recovered connections perhaps with family and I that's me and daughter number three, very profound experience of disconnection and anger, rightful anger and reconnection at a depth that's hard to explain, you know, how deep a relationship can be.

Dr. Regina Koepp 33:07

Are you willing to talk about that a little bit? Yeah. What would you share, share about what was required to restore and heal that relationship? So it could could build the trust needed to go deep?

Jim Klasen 33:22

Yeah, I, so I trained CPS as certified peer specialists, right. And we go into a number of things there motivational interviewing, you know, open ended questions, reflective listening, active listening. The fact that what the business that we're in is not curing, not advising, not fixing, just being with learning together, mutuality. And when I trained this course, we just finished one online as well as guys. I don't know if I'll ever use this. Right, right. It's, listen, I'm going to tell you a secret. I'm not working in a homeless shelter doing crisis outreach. Where this is most affected me this at home some relationships. So with my daughter, the second marriage, daughters now she's 31 Now. She was a teenager, during you know, some pretty heavy duty nonsense, acting out drug use and what that meant in terms of home, being here, not being here, people scared. Is he alive? Is he dead? So she was of my four daughters, every other one kind of were at an age where they could really get the brunt of this. So she was pretty, pretty angry with me pretty done with me. And I can't use the language and podcast, but we were, you know, she was this far away from me. And she told me, I know every Bubba boom dirty thing that you buffer. And I was already in this peer support, part of process of wellness, and I didn't react. I wasn't reactive. I didn't try to defend, I didn't get angry. I didn't try to explain. Just listen, just listen. And then time went on. Just, you know, not sure that it was a conversation or a series of conversations either, but just being there for her right and ways that we're I mean, you can make all kinds of promises to people, right? But if you're actually my thing would be, don't make the promise. Just do it show up, do what you're supposed to do and see what happens. It there's no guarantee. I mean, she could still be angry with me, but and I'm close with all four of my daughters now. And it's a very, very fortunately, I mean, it does not have to be, but she and I are probably you know, have just because of the timing that it intersected at that kind of time. Connection again, right, because she was hurt, too. It wasn't, wasn't just that I was hurting or that I was sick. Right, we're both hurting. So being able to share that vulnerability to be able to be for her to be honest with me. And for you to receive it. That, that that's, that's the space that makes that kind of healing possible.

Dr. Regina Koepp 37:08

Yeah, for a lot of my friends and myself included, have had difficult relationships with our parents, you know, my mom had a severe mental illness when I was growing up. And still, it's she's very, she's in a very stable place now, which is wonderful and living in wellness. And, but part of her mental health journey led to some abandonment, in my life, and in my brother's lives, and the way that we my mom and I were able to repair our relationship is that my mom really took responsibility for hurting us and hurting me. And, you know, I'm sure she's had this conversation with the I have four brothers with each of my brothers uniquely. But in conversation with me, she has been so non defensive about mistakes made in the midst of illness. And I, that has granted me the opportunity to, to give her more grace and living a very, you know, she was a single mom of five kids, I'm a, I'm a married mom of two kids and, like, that also has extended a lot more compassion from my direction toward my mom. I think life is the ultimate teacher of of these, you know, challenges, but maturity on my part, doing my own work and therapy and my part, you know, it was my part in healing the relationship, kind of seeing my mom as unique person outside of being, in addition to being my mom, just all of the challenges that she had. But I talked with my friends and my friends will share like I don't have the closeness, right, like I'm still in a sort of detached place or a cut off place for my my parent, and there's some pain there and still wounds that haven't healed and largely you know, they'll ask me Well, what was it with your mom? Like how how are you when your mom in a relationship when there was so much loss and pain and abandonment and struggle? And I think because my mom could do the work like my mom apologized, stood, and listened, like you were describing standing and not being defensive and receiving it and then working and showing up and working toward healing in herself and in the relationship. And I think that was that's an that's been a great teacher for me, too. I'm not a perfect parent, you know, and when I make mistakes with my kids how to show up for them and to be vulnerable for them and apologize. I think this what you're talking about in healing these relationships that come in the the sort of storm of illness, like mental health concerns and substance use concerns are all illnesses. Right? And so in this in some people, like, you know, some people appreciate the term illness, others don't. I'm going to use the term illness because there is a biological, physiological, psychological component. And, and, and then I think what you're talking about Jim is essential, because you're talking about healing relationships and, and healing relationships, but also healing in the context of relationships. And that, I think is essential to growth and connection.

Jim Klasen 40:43

Yeah, I do, too. I agree with that. Yeah, this this poet, Rilke, I guess, right, has this line of those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries. And I like that. And in and I want to be vulnerable, well. see, I mean, it's not aneasy place to be. But I do see what you know, the benefits of it. And I think you say like, thank you for being also It's 72. It's like, wow, what the hell?

Dr. Regina Koepp 41:26

What do I have to lose?

Jim Klasen 41:27

I don't have any secrets anymore? And, but it also relates, I told you that, you know, I was, I was tired of them. I think that was part of what was making me exhausted, was making believe, of having a thinking that I have to have these secrets that have people know, they won't love me, or they won't let me work here anymore, or, or What will they think of me or whatever, you know, or whatever. It's just exhausting hanging on to all of that. So it's great to be of an age, or have a mentality that says, I'm open, I'm vulnerable. And so the cats that I hang out with, it's sort of what we're about now. Anyway. Right?

Dr. Regina Koepp 42:12

So now tell us about your your role as a certified peer specialist.

Jim Klasen 42:16

I was working in Human Services actually was a jobs program and fill it up big jobs program in Philadelphia. Oh, my God, the stress of that was, was was enough, as well. And but I was in therapy. You know, I had a therapist, john burns played the guitar like I do, we would end the session with playing a song together was great. And one day he pulls these papers out of his desk, he's mimeograph, Xerox thing, things you could hardly read. So I just learned about this at Drexel University. It's called wrap, wellness recovery action plan. Maybe you want to take a look at it. And I took it home and probably didn't look at it right away. Right. But I did open it up and read it. Chad was a good guy. So if he was recommending something, and here's what happened with this rep with this wellness recovery action plan. There's a set of questions there. The first question was, describe yourself when you're well, what do you like when you feel well? That it was not a question anyone was asking me? They wanted to know what the hell was wrong with me and why I acted the way I did. So for somebody to say, What do you like when you're well describe yourself? That was the hook. This was like in the spring, I can't remember what year it was. But then, and then wrap the wellness recovery action plan, Mary Ellen Copeland, older adult herself, you know, there's an interview right there for you. They have their first WRAP around the World Conference in Philadelphia. So I go to this, I said, Well, you know, I'm gonna go to that conference. I like this rap, I've got a WRAP, but I've never taken a course it wasn't part of a WRAP group or anything. I didn't know how it was just an individual thing. Right. And, and rap is a it's a, it's just a way of organizing people's wellness. There's nothing sort of very complicated about it's like, what are you like, when you're well? What do you like, when you're not? Well, what are your triggers or stressors, and let's do an action plan, right? Let's be proactive about this. So rather than wait until all hell is breaking loose, why not have a plan and you're backed by Well, here's what I'm going to call, here's where I'm going to go when, you know, all of that kind of stuff. So I go to this conference, and I have lunch with a couple of people event and and Deborah and they worked for a place called Mental Health Association of southeastern Pennsylvania since rebranded as mental health partnerships, right. So they get a little bit of my we, you know, we're having lunch and we're talking ramp and they hear my history and that I've done some For facilitation, and they were trainers for the certified peer specialist, I never heard of a certified Blitz, a certified peer, especially, we you should take our training. So we so I did. I took their training, I was already, you know, a rap person, that's something they train into. But so I went and took the certified peer specialist training from them, not knowing whether I was I was working already whether I was going to get a job doing that or not. But within a matter of months, I was actually working with them. And this was this goes back nine, nine and a half years ago now. trainings, certified peer specialists, which are folks with the lived experience of mental health, behavioral health challenges. And it offers sort of impart a career path, right, this is these are jobs in Pennsylvania. So folks who want to help want to give back want to whatever, believe that they can use their lived experience that their story may be the strongest tool in their toolbox of helping another individual who doesn't know what's going on with them and would like some help, that can relate. So I've probably, I don't know how many it's probably close to 1000 people now have been in, in classes. And that's a place to be in a class with other folks. And they start to tell their stories and you have a story of your own, but you look at them and say, How are you even standing? What what in blazes makes you think that you want to help somebody else? Right? Wait, what are you talking about after all that you but right now, you know, because they get it? Yeah, we get and this is I can...

Dr. Regina Koepp 46:46

Because of resilience.

Jim Klasen 46:47

Yeah. So it's so it's, you know, so it's great. That's anyway, that's how I got from WRAP, to peer to peer support. All by happy accident.

Dr. Regina Koepp 46:58

Oh, I'm so glad you're in this role. And that started in your early 60s?

Jim Klasen 47:03

Well, I was then a I didn't know what I was good at. I didn't know what was what was next. So whether whether I wanted to retire. And I think I I may have emailed you this too. I have a friend that I had worked with years ago, Mark Freedman runs an organization, I guess they're out in San Francisco, which really is about the antidote to our societies, sort of like old people just put them out on the curb, or, you know, we're done. We, you know, have nothing to offer anymore in sync. Now we have this national treasure here of old folks of experience of loving grandparents of, you know, all of that, that we really should be tapping into. So that was kind of in my, in my mind to.

Dr. Regina Koepp 47:49

Well, now, since you since you became a certified specialist, peer specialist, you now are certified peer specialist for older adults.

Jim Klasen 48:00

So University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Cynthia Zubritsky has a certified older adult Peer Support Program COAPS: certified older adult peer specialists, and yes, I'm one of their one of their trainers. So we do it is so if you became a CPS in Pennsylvania, for example, in other states have certified not all states, but a lot of states do have certified peer specialists. Becoming a certified older adult peer support would just give you a little bit of edge on a specialty or might correspond to an interest that you're interested in working with older adults. We also have youth and young adult and LGBTQ plus and you know, so there's all kinds of ways that peer specialists can find their niche and and and began, but I have it as an older adult myself, I've really enjoyed that affiliation with them and training that courts as well. Wonderful.

Dr. Regina Koepp 49:09

So what recommendations do you have for older adults who might be struggling with their own mental health concerns?

Jim Klasen 49:16

Yeah, it's I think for a lot of us that I was just in a focus group to have other with other other older adults as a follow up to that conference, online conference that you and I were at or attended online. So I still see it, you know, stigma, the taboo, especially in African American communities, maybe maybe other minority communities as well, where it's just that there's enough going on without having better or whatever the taboo or stigma is, is about So I think that's one of the barriers right there is for people to be able to be honest with themselves that I don't have to feel this way. I'm lonely, disconnected. I'm, you know, whatever it is it's going on. I don't think there's any easy suggestions as someone that was depressed, I know how hard it is to, you know, you do have to get up off your rear and go find somebody or some place to, you know, to help. And that takes energy to do that. I do now I live in a city. I live in Philadelphia. So there are there's a lot of problems here. Incidentally. If anybody reads the news or big cities, especially with young people and gun violence is horrible. But so but there are services and there are places and there's a you know, community centers and an activities and peer support and people that want you know, that want to work that are reaching out. But you have to, you know, you have to reach back. I know I took care of my great aunt, right. My grandparents did pass away. They were probably in their 60s when they did but but my my Nana's sister, my aunt Doris lived to be 99. So I inherited her. I inherited her from my mother who passed away when she was 67. And yeah, just she was she had depression. I remember when we when we were young, her mother in law died and she had an awful bout with depression. But she stayed connected, right? She's always part of like, these community. I don't even remember what they were but community groups, went on trips, would not abandon her car. She was banging into things. It was awful. I mean, he would not leave her house. You know, she lived there alone for 25 years after. But she had something that pushed her. She could friends. And I think that's that's the one thing now the dilemma is that we lose our friends when we're older. You know, you never know what the next phone call or that phone call at 230 is oh my god who's you know, who died now? right kind of thing. So, but maintaining those friendships, making new friendships peer support music. See? That's my thing. Now is music some? I think so. I want to play for older adults. See, I always thought like, well, they won't want to hear my music because they want to hear old people's music look, Tim, you are an old they grew up listening the same music You did so they they will not be offended if you start playing a few Bob Dylan tunes.

Dr. Regina Koepp 53:11

Please play a few Bob Dylan tunes.

Jim Klasen 53:14

Yeah, it's so so part of it is on the older adults, right? You've big a you have to, you know reach out and want that and it's it's, it's hard to look at. But I think part of the responsibility is for family members and society or groups that endeavor to do this. Then you have to reach out you have to say you know the john prine song Hello in there. You have to say hello in there. And and keep doing it. I think sometimes in our world of help is like, well, I offered my help and they didn't want it. No, you're like a beacon. You're like a lighthouse that that message has to keep going out. Keep going out periodically when the light comes around and beams. And that's what recover. That's was the recovery process for me. Wasn't that there was a lag five Finally, I don't know somebody must have said something. I know what it was. That got to me. Partly What I'm saying is that is that we owe and this is a wrap thing. This is a wellness recovery action plan principle actually, is is hope. Right? But it's also personal responsibility. So if I thought and that was a big one for me and wrap up i thought you know that you were gonna make me better or the doctor over or my wife or my daughter was gonna nail it wasn't gonna happen until I you know, took the reins and said no, I want to be well. So there is a personal responsibility thing that you know, people either do or they don't. But I'm saying the other that on the other side, family members and society or the community Whatever that is, has a responsibility as a personal responsibility as well. To continue to reach out even if the person is reluctant, you just you show up, you know, you show up. Pat Deegan, who's one of our heroes in the pure world was very ill schizophrenia I guess when she was 17 and was at home doctors of course said you never going to get better. And her grandmother see these wise grandmother's see this is the older adult connection the older grandmother lived with a family and she would come down and say Pat, I'm going shopping Do you want to go with me? No, she didn't want to go she was sitting on a couch smoking cigarettes and drinking Coca Cola that next day going to the market you want to go with me? No. This goes on for a while finally one sec but she's persisted in a matter of fact way not not a forceful or judgment what you want to go into my finally one day she says yes, but I want my mom but I won't push the cart. Right? Eventually she's like, doing the shopping with her grandmother. So I don't know a silly story but I think it's the it's that keep you know, showing up even even if my older friend is crabby, grouchy does I go Alright, just wanted to see if you're all right. I'll be back next week. Right? So you stop. You stop back and who knows? Mondays again? Sit down. Tell me your story. Tell me you know, tell me what was what was it like growing up or? And that's the that's the thing that we kind of started on what's the shortest distance between two people their story? Yeah.

Dr. Regina Koepp 56:59

Well, thank you for sharing your story with us and all of your wisdom. Jim, do you have a guitar with you?

Jim Klasen 57:05

God knows if it's in tune.. I'm here in my basement office right

Dr. Regina Koepp 57:12

you're gonna sing a song? Yeah, yeah. Do you want to sing is that john prine song?

Jim Klasen 57:21

(playing acoustic guitar and singing) We had an apartment in the city Me and Loretta liked living there Well, it'd been years since the kids had grown A life of their own, left us alone John and Linda live in Omaha And Joe is somewhere on the road We lost Davy in the Korean war And I still don't know what for, don't matter anymore You know that old trees just grow stronger And old rivers grow wilder every day Old people just grow lonesome Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello" Me and Loretta, we don't talk much more She sits and stares through the back door screen And all the news just repeats itself Like some forgotten dream that we've both seen Someday I'll go and call up Rudy We worked together at the factory But what could I say if he asks "What's new?" "Nothing, what's with you? Nothing much to do" You know that old trees just grow stronger And old rivers grow wilder every day Old people just grow lonesome Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello" So if you're walking down the street sometime And spot some hollow ancient eyes Please don't just pass 'em by and stare As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello"

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:00:07

Thank you so much. That was wonderful.

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:00:11

I cannot thank Jim enough for taking the time to be on the podcast today and sharing his story. The more we share our experiences of mental health and talk about our own lived experiences, the more I believe we dismantle the stigma and the shame. I also think it's incredibly important in terms of barriers for older adults receiving mental health care. Stigma is one of the primary barriers to older adults engaging in care. And the more older adults are willing to share their own experiences in their own stories, the less stigma there will be and the more likely older adults will be to access mental health care. So thank you, Jim. Thanks for sharing your story and your music with us.

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:01:02

Now, are you a mental health or senior care provider? I have a free guide just for you. called the mental health professionals guide to working with older adults. In it, you'll learn the five facts that every professional working with older adults must know. To download this free guide which is filled with lots of helpful resources, go to mental health and forward slash pro guide. All one word, all lowercase Mental Health and Aging comm forward slash pro guide.

Dr. Regina Koepp 1:01:35

Alright, that's all for today. If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave a review because subscriptions and reviews help other people to find this show. And the more people listen and the more people hear the lived experiences of older adults and hear from experts working with older adults in the mental health field, the less stigma there will be and the more resources there will be in this world. All right. That's all for today. I'll see you next week, same time, same place. Bye for now.

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