A NAMI Friend Maintains Her Recovery Through Exercise, Determination and Friendship

When the Utah state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness invited me to speak at a public meeting and talk to state legislators in January, my tour guide was Francisca Blanc, NAMI Utah’s development director. She knew every state legislator, was an effective lobbyist and a whiz at getting me on Salt Lake City television and radio programs.

At one point, she told me that she had been struggling with her own mental illness, including bouts of depression, for more than two decades.

What she didn’t tell me during our jam-packed day together was that she was self-medicating with booze during my visit. Lots of booze. I had no idea because she hid it so well. But shortly after my visit, Francisca crashed and ended up in a emergency room.

Last week, I returned to Utah to speak at a Housing Matters Conference held by the Utah Housing Coalition in Park City and I was thrilled to see Francisca waiting there to introduce me. She had quite a story to share.

She told me that she had been sober since July 11 and had lost 25 pounds by getting involved in “Fit to Recover,” an exercise and recovery non-profit founded about three years ago by Ian Acker, a local Salt City man. Acker had started drinking when he was ten years old and was soon abusing both alcohol and drugs. He was jailed seven times and went through five Muse Treatment Santa Monica programs. But nothing stuck until one day while in jail, he admitted that he had a problem and decided it was up to him to do something about it.

Acker began going to a public park where he offered free “boot camp” workout sessions to other addicts who wanted to get healthy.  Now Fit to Recover has its own gym and is attracting non-addicts as well as folks such as Francisca.

Francisca felt at home with other addicts who knew how difficult it is to stop abusing drugs and alcohol. She threw herself into Acker’s demanding exercise regime and soon began seeing the results of her sobriety. Not only did she feel better, she had more energy, more focus, and more stamina. A sparkle returned to her eyes. Going to an alcohol rehab can be helpful for one to get out of addiction.

In addition to her NAMI work, Francisca has begun speaking openly about her alcoholism. This is important because we know roughly forty percent of individuals with bipolar disorder have co-occurring drug or alcohol addictions. (You can see Francisca talking about Fit To Recover in the newsclip that I posted above.)

From Park City, I flew to Dallas, Texas, to give the keynote address at the Texas NAMI state convention. The theme was Pathway to Wellness. That seemed to be an especially appropriate title after my hopeful reunion with Francisca. It reminded me that when it comes to mental illness, we are on a journey. The road often is rocky which is why it is so important for us to help each other by sharing our stories and giving others hope.

Thank you Francisca for your courage in speaking out and your continued leadership in Utah.

Matthew Kendall. Rachel Santizo and Francisca Blanc

Matthew Kendall. Rachel Santizo and Francisca Blanc after a Fit to Recover workout

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.