WALLA WALLA -- "It was back in the Navy when I lost my mind and hung myself. The night cook found me in the berth compartment and cut me down."
Jim Tade shakes his head at the 30-year-old memory. "They said I was without oxygen to my brain for more than a minute."
He was taken off the USS Constellation and flown to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, where his parents came to visit him, Tade said. "I didn't even know who they were, I was in such bad shape."
Not that the young military cook hadn't reached out for help, he said. "Months before I lost my mind, I saw black spots and experienced things at a level they hadn't been before. I went to the doctor on the ship and told him and he told me I needed a sinus operation."
While hospitalized Tade finally got a diagnosis for the illness that nearly took his life -- acute paranoid schizophrenia.
He knew much earlier, however, that something about him was different, he said, nodding and leaning back in his chair at Rising Sun Clubhouse.
"When I was a little kid, kids would make fun of me. I withdrew; I thought people were thinking strange things about me."
In Catholic school, Tade heard the taunts of "retard," even as he wore the same plaid jacket as other students.
"I just accepted it," he recalled. "People react out of fear. They don't know what to say.
"People used to torture me."
Tade, 55, said he's been hospitalized 34 times for his brain's disorder. Now he's "way better," he said, repositioning his Navy ball cap on his head. "People don't give me trouble."
He takes prescription Seroquel daily and gets a shot of another anti-psychotic medication every two weeks. It's been five years since he's heard the voices that shouted his every fear, Tade said. "Age can help, the symptoms get easier ... but I can't stand a lot of noise and confusion."
After an honorable discharge from the military, the veteran worked for 20 years, doing any odd job he could get: "I've cleaned yards, shoveled snow, shoveled shit, moved refrigerators up and down stairs. You name it, I did it."
It wasn't unusual for Tade to work 10 to 12 hours a day, making $30 or so, he explained. "I drank it up. I'm an alcoholic, too."
He's not had a drink since 1986, he pointed out.
There are two ways to go in life, Tade said. "One's positive and one's negative and you can go one way or the other."
In choosing the positive, he structures his days to reflect that. He avoids violent TV shows or movies with "too much sex," he said. "It's not good to focus on that. When I was younger I used to glorify that stuff."
He arrives at Rising Sun every morning often mopping the well-trod floors. He walks daily, listening to classic rock 'n' roll, and goes to St. Patrick Catholic Church weekly.
And, after nearly dying from respiratory failure five months ago, Tade is exercising and lifting weights. "I'll never smoke again," he emphasized. "If my feet didn't hurt so much, I'd walk a lot more. I love the fresh air. I was raised on a cattle ranch, I was always outside."
He's chosen to participate in society, despite his mental illness, Tade pointed out. "If I had one arm or one leg, I'd still be out. You can't be a freak."
Reality can be found in attitude and outlook, he believes. "I never blamed God. I was raised not to think like that."
The former Navy man, dressed this day in a plaid jacket and black deck shoes, appears unwilling to focus on what mental illness has taken away. "I'll never be married, but that don't bother me," Tade said, shrugging slightly. "I live in an adult family home, but that don't bother me."
Not that he hasn't had "a lot" of chances to be married, he added with a smile. "But being schizophrenic, that wouldn't work."
He's in better shape these days to deal with his challenges and so is the world around him, Tade feels. "Society is growing up and understanding it's a chemical imbalance, nothing else. I'm just living with mental illness."
Sheila Hagar can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8322.
About This Series
This is the third in a series of profiles of people in the Walla Walla area living with mental illness. Watch Health amp; Fitness for a final installment.