Woman’s journey brings her work, mental health

Thank you, Lord, for this deliverance. Thank you for …

A job. Regina Holloway has two, in fact. The Hapeville mother of three is working for ProGeorgia, a nonprofit specializing in grass-root civic engagement, voter registration and other issues. She’s also a representative for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, educating people about bipolar disorder. It’s something she knows intimately.

On this Thanksgiving Day, she has come a long way, figuratively and literally.

Holloway left her native Long Island, N.Y., in 1999. She headed south with Jamel, her 10-year-old son, daughter Naomi, 3, and another child on the way. Holloway left without their father, deciding she’d be better off without him. She traveled as far as Aiken, S.C., where Holloway spent several months with relatives. In 2000, she headed to Atlanta, a big place where the dreams surely were big. By then she had another daughter, Keema.

They moved to College Park, where Holloway got a part-time waitress job at a Waffle House. The manager was a good guy: He let her work daytime shifts so she could be home when the kids got home from school and daycare.

Still, it was not easy. Most of the time, she felt on top of the world, bouncing into the restaurant with a big smile and a hello for folks on either side of the diner’s counter. Some days, the “black cloud” descended, and she’d be too despondent to get out of bed. She’d dealt with it for years, wondering: Is something wrong with me?

In 2007, her dad died. Frederick Holloway succumbed to a heart attack at 63. No one saw it coming, and his daughter was paralyzed with grief. She took to her bed.

Her sadness was so profound that Naomi took over the cooking duties. With her mom in bed issuing directions, Naomi, 11 at the time, prepared breakfast and dinner for the family.

Lying in her bed, Holloway prayed. “God,” she asked, “what’s wrong with me?”

We thank you, Lord, for …

Mental health. Holloway struggled from her bed. The children needed a mama, an emotionally whole mama. She sought professional and learned that the mood swings that had stalked her for decades had a name: bipolar disorder, a medical condition in which people can veer from ecstasy to deep depression. She went to the Internet and began learning as much as she could about it.

With counseling and drugs and prayer, the black cloud dissipated. For the first time since she was a teen, Holloway felt as if she were in control of her life.

Holloway threw herself into activities at the Georgia chapter of 9to5, a nationwide nonprofit that advocates workplace equality for women. She participated in programs that taught aspiring businesswomen how to dress; to write a resume; to fashion a cover letter. Holloway began to stand a little taller, to walk like she was going somewhere.

Charmaine Davis, the Atlanta chapter’s director, noticed. She recommended Holloway for a temporary internship with ProGeorgia, canvassing precincts in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville communities.

It was a natural fit — the gregarious Holloway, talking to strangers and urging them to exercise their most basic right to vote. When the internship ended, ProGeorgia kept her on. It’s a flexible position, which allows her to pursue her other job.

Job? More like a calling. Holloway, working with the mental health alliance, made a DVD in which she explains bipolar disorder and how she got hers under control. She’s appeared at workshops across the metro area, preaching a profound gospel: Mental illness can be treated. People suffering from emotional and mental disorders can rise.

And that brings us back to the first words of this story:

Thank you Lord, for this …

Deliverance. With enhanced pay, Holloway is working her way off food stamps for herself and her family. She’s setting a role model for Naomi and Keema — Jamel, 22, is attending college in Illinois, but the girls, 16 and 11 respectively, are still works in progress — and believing that her life has purpose.

Today, she plans to sit down with relatives in Aiken, her rest stop 13 years ago. They’ll do serious damage to a turkey. They’ll laugh long and loud. They’ll affirm that, yes, God is good.

Regina Holloway, what do you say?

“I still pray,” she said. “And God is answering those prayers.”

Thank you, Lord.