Shawn Brown: A Healthy Balance
You can look at Shawn Brown and sense his high energy and strong sense of self. He exudes a spirit of health. But it wasn’t always that way.
Shawn moved into Project HOME’s 1515 Fairmount Avenue residence back in 2011, and last year, he made a new home at our Francis House of Peace. For much of that time, he struggled with his health, often feeling sluggish and down on himself. His weight was exacerbating an inflamed knee and a bad back. He also was dealing with diabetes.
Realizing the seriousness of diabetes was the turning point that motivated Shawn to make changes. Six months ago, the opportunity arose to participate in a new health education program – and Shawn jumped on it.
Shawn chose to enroll in a special program entitled the Peer-Led Group Lifestyles Balance [PGLB]. The PGLB is a co-sponsored research effort between Project HOME and Columbia University, with funding by the National Institute of Mental Health. The program is based on a successful education effort that has enabled many people in the general population to control or reduce their risk of diabetes. PGLB is trying to replicate that success with persons with a history of serious mental illness.
Sixteen current Project HOME residents from three of our sites have participated in the program (with more to be added this fall). Participants take 22 sessions/modules with educational material on improving healthy eating and moderate physical activity in their lives.
As part of the program, Shawn began a regiment of learning new eating and nutrition habits and physical activity. He admits “it wasn’t easy at first” – he confesses a weak spot for Philly cheesesteaks. But within a few weeks, he saw that the weight was falling off, and the inflammation in his knee was easing. “Something was working.”
Today, it’s no more fast food, now lots of vegetables, fruit, and nuts. And he has learned not to eat too much, but to enjoy smaller portions. “I have a better respect for food now,” Shawn says. As a symbol of his change, he removed the Wendy’s “Free Frosty” coupon – which he used to use often – off his keychain
The program stresses moderation. “I am not going to deny myself the opportunity to eat,” Shawn explains. “On holidays, I will eat with family, and also at special events, but in moderation.”
He learned to be more physically active, including exercise and bike-riding. He now rides his bike every morning down Kelly Drive to East Falls and back, 6 miles each way. The bike rides have done more than strengthen his body. “It’s exhilarating to be our along the river in the early morning. I love it – it’s my therapy.”
The results are startling: Shawn has lost lots of weight, and his diabetes is gone. But the benefits have been more than just physical. It has helped him in re-establishing broader personal goals for himself – including his ongoing recovery, his family, and his relationships. “I am learning to put my Higher Power first, and respect people who live around me,” he says. “It grows out of learning to respect myself and respect my boundaries.”
But the Lifestyle Balance program isn’t just a temporary education program – it has become a way of life. “I am not getting any younger, and I want to be around a lot longer. I want to keep this balance, I want to be a person who is easy to get along with.”
As Shawn continues to make progress in the Lifestyle Balance program and in his personal life, he is eager to share his success with others. He supports the other current participants in the program – and reaches out to others as well. “If I can be an influence for someone, I will definitely show them what kind of results are possible.”
You just have to look at Sean and you will be convinced.