Recovery is Real: Patient-Turned-Mentor Shares Story of Hope and Offers Support to Others

Howard Trachtman
Howard Trachtman

Howard Trachtman can serve as a role model to us all. He lives to tell the tale of an incredible journey of recovery from schizoaffective disorder. Finding proper medication was key to regaining his life, and he has spent the last few years inspiring and helping others regain their lives as a peer mentor and support group leader in the Greater Boston area.

He encourages others and believes that “Recovery is REAL and people with mental illness can recover! We are people first and can and do deserve a good quality of life.”

“I believe that Recovery is REAL and that people with mental illness can recover! We are people first and can and do deserve a good quality of life.”

If there is ever any doubt that recovery is possible, we can all be inspired by the story of Howard Trachtman. The extremely gifted Howard was just 16-years-old when he entered MIT to study artificial intelligence and management and build robots. Two years into the program, he had his first psychotic break. He explains, “In 1983 I was up all night at the artificial intelligence laboratory. I decided I needed to flee and to see my parents…. I was having many strange thoughts, and was afraid to board the next plane. My bizarre behavior was noticed, and the police brought me to a crisis center.”

He recounts the next series of difficult events: “They asked if I heard voices, and I was put into mechanical restraints and injected with Haldol. Luckily, they called my parents who flew up and then they discharged me…. Shortly after getting home, I walked out barefoot looking for a Bible. I was soon hospitalized for three weeks.”

After what appeared to be a stabilization, Howard returned to school, but soon after found himself “homeless and lost a temporary job I had at a computer company.” The next few years would find Howard in and out of various hospitals, struggling to find stability. Finding the right medication became the essential tool Howard needed to regain his life. He explains, “My recovery really took off when I started a new medication and discovered the mental health recovery movement around the same time. I was quickly mentored as a leader, learned about community organizing and developed skills in chairing meetings and facilitating support groups.”

Not only has Howard found stability in his life, but he has gone on to be a peer mentor to others in recovery from mental illness. He is currently the co-executive director of the Metro Boston Recovery Learning Community (MBRLC), co-founder and executive director of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Boston Consumer Advocacy Network (NAMI GB-CAN). He also participates in a ‘warmline’, a peer-run telephone support line staffed by those who have experienced the challenges of living with mental illness.

Support is essential to recovery, and Howard encourages people to “learn as much as possible on websites, books and from mental health organizations.” As for his own support system, he says: “My mom and dad have been my biggest supporters. I talk to my mom every day... I continue to get help from my local community mental health center. Also, my girlfriend has been a great supporter of me.” Howard also appreciates that it is not only the mentally ill that are in need of support: “If you are a peer, attend peer support groups; if you are a family member find other family members to support you. I try to bring hope to people.”

Howard believes the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation funds the science needed for cures: “As an artificial intelligence researcher I was very interested in how the brain works. We have learned much, and I am hopeful that new research will lead to better treatments with fewer side effects, such as weight gain.” Howard believes that science and support are the keys to recovery, and has a message for all who are affected by mental illness: “I believe that recovery is REAL and that people with mental illness can recover! We are people first and can and do deserve a good quality of life.”