After decades of trauma and family turmoil, Hope Holland likes to hike and contemplate at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga.
“You can be here and not feel homeless,” she said on a recent visit to the center’s immaculate gardens and hills above the Silicon Valley. “You feel like you actually live here for a moment.”
Now 44, the native of California’s north coast was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in her early 20s. She was open to treatment but rejected medication after witnessing her mother’s struggle with mental illness.
“No one wants to take meds for the rest of their life,” she said, adding that she’s also physically sensitive to medications. With strong, hiker’s legs and medium brown hair braided tightly, Holland glided from one Montalvo trail to the other, never missing a step on the paths or detail in her story.
Holland ran away to a friend’s house at age 12, where she actually began to live a somewhat normal life. She sang in the high school jazz choir, ran cross-country, played basketball, and became an honors student and vice-president of her class. But the torments that drove her from home were never far away. She said the organized crime gang that killed her uncle was threatening the family, too.
“I was having nervous breakdowns,” she said. Holland moved to live with a friend in Cupertino, but that was no easy escape. “I felt so out of place. I couldn’t handle it.”
The smart and talented young woman dropped out of school, bounced in and out of therapy, and started a long, bumpy journey marked by college successes and the breakdowns that would force her to start over again and again. She was homeless and incarcerated at times, but also held good high-tech jobs.
Over the course of her life, Holland attempted suicide five times. Starting in 2001, Momentum for Mental Health laid the foundation for her recovery and gave her direction. She said she began to embrace her illness and make it work for her, not against her.
Along the way she had two boys, Jacob and Jonathan. Adding unimaginable anguish to her struggle, Jonathan’s father kidnapped the boy when he was only 3, leaving Hope to raise Jacob on her own. Holland took a few years to focus on her recovery, but ended up finding Jonathan 15 years later through a photo he had posted on Facebook three years prior. The Spanish-speaking young man now lives with her in Campbell.
Little by little, Holland, who is partly fluent in the language, is telling him her story and showing him how far she’s come.
While Jonathan was growing up in Mexico and Hope was raising Jacob, Holland became a certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor. She served on a blue ribbon commission that looked into the beating death of Michael Tyree, an inmate with a mental illness, in the Santa Clara County Jail in 2015.
“I like what you do,” Jonathan told her in English during the hike, adding in Spanish later that he admires his mother’s long struggle to find and overcome her illness. “She is strong and determined.”
Holland also worked on the Mental Health Services Act, a 2004 ballot initiative approved by California voters. The measure taxes the wealthy to expand and improve prevention and treatment, mainly through county mental health programs.
“Most people wouldn’t have hope if they were in my position,” Holland said. “But I feel as though hope was innately born in me.”