Jason spent his childhood in Iowa and was very close to both of his parents. He had many physical health problems when he was young, and as he got older, Jason struggled in school. His teachers labeled him as lazy and unmotivated. Jason knew that was not who he was, and it took him decades to understand why he felt so different from other people.

After Jason graduated from high school, he and his family moved to Colorado, where Jason attended college and received a bachelor’s degree. He met a woman who later became his wife, and they lived together happily for a few years.

When Jason turned 30, he decided to pursue a master’s degree in the field of mental health counseling. As he got closer to graduating, Jason began having panic attacks at the thought of trying to find a job with his new degree. Unable to find ways to overcome his anxiety, he dropped out of school.

Jason’s anxiety took a toll on his marriage, and one year later, he and his wife divorced. He also lost his job, had to declare bankruptcy, and moved in with his parents.

When Jason was 35, he and his parents moved back to Iowa. His parents did not feel they were able to provide him with the help he needed, so they placed Jason in a crisis home in the hopes he would improve. Jason hated living there and did not feel it was helping him, so he chose to become homeless.

A few years later, Jason eventually made his way to Council Bluffs. As he was walking down the street one day, he found the Heartland Family Service Peer Center. On a whim, Jason decided to go inside and see what it had to offer.

The caring team at the Peer Center immediately welcomed Jason and took time to get to know him. Based on his mental health needs, they referred him to the Heartland Family Service Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation (IPR) program. This program is designed to help improve and maximize the level of functioning and quality of life for people experiencing a disabling mental illness.

Jason quickly met with his new IPR therapist, who genuinely listened to what had been bothering him. One week later, Jason had set new goals to find a job, get an apartment of his own, and to finish his master’s degree. His therapist also referred him to a psychiatrist so he could receive additional support.

After seeing his psychiatrist for a few months, Jason was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. At first, he felt angry about his diagnosis. He never thought of himself as autistic and did not want to be labeled as mentally ill. As Jason learned more about the disorder, he finally realized autism had been affecting him his entire life. Everything he had struggled with for decades finally made sense.

Jason found a positive, productive outlet in art and regularly creates paintings and sculptures. He now has a safe, affordable apartment, is re-applying to graduate school, and is now employed as a Case Manager in the Heartland Family Service Heartland Bridges program. His ultimate goal is to start his own art-focused nonprofit to help those struggling with mental health diagnoses and homelessness.