Jim Hollimon has spent most of his life trying to overcome mental illness. His disease has affected his career, his family and his everyday life.
Today, the Great Falls resident still has problems coping, but he helps others deal with their problems through a peer program sponsored by the Center for Mental Health of Cascade County, a United Way-funded program in Great Falls.
Hollimon spoke about his problems — and how the Center for Mental Health has helped him — at a hoedown Saturday night that marked the beginning of the United Way of Hill County's annual fund drive. His talk gave participants a chance to see first-hand how United Way programs affect people.
After he spoke, United Way-funded agencies auctioned off gift baskets to attendees of the Hill County Kick-off Hoedown.
Hollimon said his problems began with physical abuse from his alcoholic father. They were compounded when his family moved from "Cowboy, redneck Texas to Hippieville, California," in the troubled 1960s.
After high school, he joined the Air Force and served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. He spent most of his 20-year military career "solving my problems with booze."
He had a breakdown in the final months of his Air Force service and was saved when a friendly officer provided him a job with few responsibilities so he would finish enlistment and get a pension.
Suspecting that his problems were caused by his alcohol abuse, Holliman returned to Montana, and on his knees with his pastor, he swore off drinking.
But the drinking, he would find out later, was a symptom of his problems, not the cause.
His disease affected his relationship with his wife and daughter, though his family stuck by him through the tough times.
"When mental illness strikes, it affects everyone in your family," he told the crowd.
He began hearing voices. His deteriorating condition terrified him.
Through counseling, he began to realize that his problems stemmed from his childhood problems.
It took years of help and some lengthy hospitalizations, but little by little, Holliman began to come to grips with his problems.
As part of his therapy, he helps other people in the same predicament in the peer program.
"The program lets people who are on the road to recovery help those who are not yet on the road to recovery," he said. "Sometimes we fall down and help each other pick ourselves up."