For 24 years, Bruce Ray drove down State Route 163 and knew exactly when to avert his eyes as he passed Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. In a small way, he was trying to avoid what he felt was a shameful part of his life — a hospitalization there in 1988 for mania due to bipolar disorder.
Today, Bruce is one of Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital’s most dedicated volunteers. Over the years, he slowly embraced his diagnosis and now helps patients through some of the same challenges that he himself overcame.
“I feel blessed now for what I have been through and for my diagnosis, because it reminds me that every person gets the chance to pay attention to their life — and that is a blessing,” says Bruce.
Bruce first felt symptoms of his illness in college. He was the life of the party a few days a week, but would find himself “hiding” the rest of the time. After graduation, he felt exhausted. He was first hospitalized in his 20s and diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
He moved back to San Diego to be closer to family as he navigated this new aspect of his identity. Over time, he decided his illness would not define his life; it would just be a small part of who he was. He gained control over his condition by focusing on sleep, exercise, spiritual time, diet and being with others.
At age 50, he began to understand the power of social connections, and decided he wanted to share his story with others.
A family friend who volunteered for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) encouraged Bruce to become more involved in this community. He was trained in peer counseling and joined an internship program at Sharp Mesa Vista, where he had been a patient 24 years earlier.
For the last eight years, he has volunteered almost exclusively in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and describes the caregivers there as a true team who are passionate about helping others.
As he walks through the halls wearing his hospital badge, patients sometimes ask Bruce if he is a doctor. When he describes his journey at Sharp Mesa Vista, he often sees hope in their eyes.
With more than 9,000 hours volunteering, Bruce’s goal is to connect with patients as much as he can.
“When patients arrive at the ICU, they are usually disconnected — maybe they lost their marriage, job or friendships,” says Bruce. “I aim to help them heal through relationships, connect them back to life and rebuild their self-acceptance.”