Local man helps others with similar mental health struggles

Drugs and alcohol and untreated depression had taken their toll on Anthony Freshour.

Drugs, alcohol and untreated depression had taken their toll on Anthony Freshour.

It was such a helpless feeling.

“It’s like being dropped out of a helicopter in the middle of the ocean,” said Freshour, a former Auburn resident who lives today in Federal Way.

Freshour reached a personal crisis 10 years ago. He dropped out of the University of Idaho. After 10 hospitalizations and a failed suicide attempt, he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, borderline personality disorder and general anxiety disorder.

Doctors recommended he seek help from Valley Cities, a Kent-based nonprofit organization that delivers mental health and substance abuse treatment and recovery services. There, he enrolled in counseling, medication management and support group services.

He was able to turn his life around.

That feeling of being dropped in the middle of the ocean hasn’t entirely gone away, but Freshour has found the needed support to face his day-to-day challenges and cope with his problems.

“When I’m taking my medication, it’s like wearing a life jacket, so I know it will keep my head above water,” Freshour said. “I know that if I don’t learn the right skills (to personally survive), (if I don’t) learn how to swim, even though I’ve got the life jacket, I’m still not going to survive.”

Freshour, 30, a husband, family man and part-time college student, is paying it forward to others in crisis. He applied to be a peer support specialist at Valley Cities a year ago, and got the job. He welcomes the opportunity to facilitate chemical dependency support groups and help people fight their addictions and get on the road to recovery.

“Sometimes it leaves me speechless helping people who went through what I went through,” Freshour said. “It’s the most satisfying job I have ever had. I see myself in people I work with every day.

“It feels really good to able to give back to a place who really helped me get well,” he said. “I really enjoy being able to use my own experience. … I feel like I can connect with them better. … The people I have worked with are really happy to talk to someone who knows how it feels to get through what they’re going through.”

Freshour has taken it one step further. He has enrolled at Highline College with hopes of becoming a chemical dependency professional one day.

Freshour has been effective in his role, said Danielle Goodwin, service manager for peer support at Valley Cities and a recovery client. Mental health organizations, such as Valley Cities, are realizing the impact that peer support can have in a person’s turnaround.

“That peer support is a viable part of recovery,” Goodwin said. “We are definitely living, walking examples of recovery, … and Anthony is a great example of how a person came come through, from the beginning to recovery.”

Valley Cities served an estimated 7,500 clients last year. The organization has grown with the demand. It has eight clinics in the area, including Kent, Auburn and Renton.

Freshour was reluctant at first but was willing to accept his condition and work to come clean.

“For me, personally, it’s a two-step process, to actually ask for help, then to accept it,” he said. “It comes down to a point where you are willing to do whatever it takes for you to get better. … I have had a lot of support for a long time, but I wasn’t getting better because I wasn’t putting in the work.”

Freshour’s journey is ongoing.

“It’s a daily work in progress,” he said. “It’s always going on … sometimes day-to-day, sometimes hour-to-hour.

“For me, I have to continue to grow, continue to change,” he said. “With the training, the people I work with, staff and clients, I learn something new every day. It makes it easy for me to continue to grow.”