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Andy Copeland Speaks on Depression, Narrative Journaling

He was joined by State Senator Renee Unterman and Jaye Peabody as part of a symposium in honor of Depression Awareness Month.

In honor of Depression Awareness Month, Covenant Counseling and Family Resource Center, headquartered in Snellville, held a symposium on Oct. 20 designed to lift spirits and raise awareness and needed funding to combat depression.

Andy Copeland, State Senator Renee Unterman and Jaye Lynn Peabody were the guests of honor at the home of Board Member and Snellville resident Dr. Yvonne Freeman.

Peabody is the executive director of Covenant Counseling. She described the symptoms and challenges posed by depression, while Unterman gave a personal account of her battle with depression; Copeland share coping methods as he and his family faced tragedy.

Unterman, Chair of the Georgia Senate Health and Human Services Committee and longtime politician, described her family history of depression. One of her biggest challenges has been that her private life – both successes and failures – have always made front page news. Whether it was her battle with depression, which required inpatient care, or her very public divorce, personal matters were rarely left private.

Then, the worst thing imaginable happened – her adopted son committed suicide nearly four years ago at the age of 25. Ironically, she was already working on suicide prevention committees.

“I know what it’s like now,” she said, “to have a family member in the hospital or who needs counseling. I’ve learned to talk about it. No one really wants to talk about it, but if we don’t talk or lobby for the money that needs to go into the infrastructure to help these people, it won’t happen.”

For Unterman, her work at a nonprofit called Angela’s House is part of her son’s legacy.

“You have to make something good out of such terrible tragedy,” she said.

Angela’s House is a place in Atlanta that reaches out to young girls who have been trafficked. When she spoke about the nonprofit with her son, he strongly encouraged her to advocate for the center, and even helped her with her work.

, who battled a devastating bacterial infection which resulted in quadruple amputations, described how “narrative journaling” helped him work through the tragedy he and his family faced.

He recounted how he and his wife felt those first few days following Aimee’s accident and the emotional rollercoaster that followed. After her initial surgery, the surgeon approached Andy and his wife and told them that “she’s not doing well.”

Aimee had gone into cardiac arrest when they moved her from the operating room table, and they didn’t know if she would last through the night.

“We just went through so many emotions,” said Andy.

He asked if they could just pray. He, his family and even the surgeon joined hands to pray for Aimee that night.

“I just prayed, God, she can mean so much for your kingdom, she can do so much for so many people,” he recounted. “I believe in the power of prayer. It’s really what carried us.”

That night, he pulled out his laptop, and even though he’s never been a “journaler,” he sat there and started typing, hoping he could get as many people praying as possible.

“I put it on Facebook… I knew about 90 people,” he said, laughing because he now has nearly 3,000 friends.

As people started following his updates, he transferred his entries to a website. Soon, the server hosting the site crashed because of the influx of new readers.

“Narrative journaling is supposed to be an open journal between a counselor and a patient,” he said, “In my case, I was open journaling with 30, 90 friends, and then all over the world!”

CBS was the first to start quoting his blog entries, then Good Morning America.

“When they couldn’t get a hold of me, they just quoted my blog,” he said. “By default, my blog was shared with the entire world.”

Writing has been very cathartic for Andy. He encouraged South Gwinnett math teacher Mark Rinehart to do the same when the two spoke before Mark’s wife, Hannah, passed away from a different, but just as rare, bacterial infection.

Although Andy could have gotten negative, focusing on the hospital’s actions or the situation as a whole, he chose to remain positive throughout his writing. He could have gotten angry, he said, but saw the fruitlessness of that path.

“Who are you going to be mad at?” he asked rhetorically. “Mad at Aimee? Mad at my wife? Mad at myself? At God? God doesn’t make this stuff happen, he just wants to see how you’ll handle it. What’s the fiber of your character?”

His experience in journaling was a good one, and is taking him to the next step, which is writing a book.

There are many things he did not share in his blog, but he did write them in a small silver notebook and spoke his thoughts on a voice recorder. He even recorded Aimee’s first words as she came out of her coma.

“That also would be extremely cathartic,” he said.

For more information on the Covenant Counseling and Family Resource Center, visit their website.

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