Lorna Graev, Carmen dell'Orifice, Anne Mai, Alex Herzan, and Lynn Nicholas
|By Nancy A. Ruhling
Lorna Graev will never forget the dark days, the ones when her mother, Mimi Hyde, got so depressed that she would close the curtains and close herself off from the rest of the world. When she finally did let the light into her self-imposed tomb, it was to usher in a rush of activity that was so frantic that it bordered on insanity.
“She suffered this way for 12 years, until in 1960 she became one of the first people to be treated with lithium,” Graev says. “I often reflect on how brave she was. She was resilient and gutsy.”
The same may be said about Graev, who discovered in 1991 that she had inherited more than she thought from her mother. “I was under a lot of stress – I was living in London, studying art history at the Christie’s school, my father was ill and I was getting a divorce,” she says. “All of a sudden, I had this cycling experience, and I was in overdrive, acting maniacally. And I was thinking, ‘I am my mother’s daughter.’”
Despite the stigma society assigns to mental illness, Graev, like her mother, decided to talk about it in the hopes of helping others, and in 2002, she became a volunteer at Fountain House, the West Side professional self-help program operated by people like her who are recovering from mental illnesses.
|“I went to the clubhouse and saw how people with severe mental illness could work and be productive,” she says. “Fountain House empowers its members; it gives them the tools and support they need to live fulfilling lives.”
Founded in 1948, Fountain House, with the help of generous people like Graev, who is the vice chairman of its board, has served more than 16,000 men and women, and its innovative clubhouse model is the basis for more than 400 similar programs in 32 countries around the world that help 50,000 people.
Graev has made Fountain House her mission, devoting most of her time to raising money and raising awareness. The annual symposium and luncheon, founded by Graev and Lynn Nicholas, was attended by nearly 600 people in 2007 and brought in $1 million in donations.
“My goal now is to see that the wellness center is built,” Graev says. “We have the money, and it will be finished in two years. When I was at my worst, exercise helped me survive, so I want Fountain House members to have access to a gym, yoga lessons and other physical activities.”
Mental illness, Graev says, happens in the best of families. She knows first-hand: She is not the only one in hers who has bipolar disorder. And that, she says, is why Fountain House is so important: It lifts the curtains and brings in the healing light for people like her and her mother, bringing them help and hope.
For more information on Fountain House, go to fountainhouse.org.