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Lost and found - Ex-Packer Aldridge winning life's battle
By Steve Clark
Lionel Aldridge was on top of life's mountain when he won three world championships, including two Super Bowls, with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s.
Now, he's just happy to have his head above water.
Aldridge is a recovered paranoid schizophrenic who was at Beloit Memorial Hospital Wednesday night to speak on what he had to live through and how he eventually beat his mental illness.
``I'm completely symptom free. I have no reminders of my illness,'' Aldridge said. ``Giving programs like these are like therapy for me. I have the satisfaction of saying `been there, done that.'^''
Aldridge, originally from Louisiana and now a resident of Shorewood, Wis., was a defensive end when he joined the Green Bay Packers in 1963. He was a key cog _ playing opposite of Willie Davis on Green Bay's defensive line _ on the legendary teams of the 1960s earning All-Pro honors as a player and eventually getting enshrined in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.
Following his football career, Aldridge moved behind the microphone as a sports broadcaster working as analyst for such stations as WTMJ as well as nationally for NBC. During that time, he returned to the Super Bowl as part of the Super Bowl VII broadcast team.
Throughout those years, Aldridge showed no signs of having paranoid schizophrenia.
He lived the healthy, normal life he had dreamed about and his road to success seemed to be one without any bumps.
Then things changed. ``I really didn't start getting sick until I was about 33,'' said Aldridge who is now 56. ``I was working full-time at WTMJ at the time and things just started to fall apart.
``There was extreme paranoia and irritability and it was difficult for me to get along with others. I was unable to work. It was a rough setting.''
Aldridge would eventually go through a divorce before leaving Milwaukee to travel throughout the country. He was homeless from 1982-84 and then for a short time a few years later, and simply lived day-by-day to survive.
He eventually returned to Milwaukee where, with the help of friends, sought treatment for his illness and started down the road to recovery.
``I didn't consider myself a drifter; I was just a victim of schizophrenia,'' said Aldridge, who lost both of his Super Bowl rings while he was homeless. ``I had gone 10 years without getting any kind of treatment. Once I accepted and cooperated with the treatment, I started to beat the illness.''
Aldridge said he has been free of the illness for about a year. However, he has spoke about his battle since around 1987.
Originally, he started giving programs to keep himself on the path to full recovery, feeling that talking about his illness would help him conquer it.
Yet, now that Aldridge is completely healed, he does it more for the people he is speaking to.
``(Speaking to groups) has changed for me,'' said Aldridge, who speaks throughout the country to various groups. ``When I started, I did it as a way to keep myself stable. But once I got well, it serves as a way to get the information out.''
Letting people hear about paranoid schizophrenia is not the only reason Aldridge continues to speak of his illness. He also discusses how he got through it and what he used in his battle against the mental illness.
He said there are ways, in addition to medication, to get through the illness that people suffering from the disease may not know about.
``My accomplishment is that people are hearing what can be done. People can and do recover from mental illness,'' Aldridge said. ``The medication is important, but it doesn't cure you. I won with the things I did to help myself and people who may be suffering now or people who may know someone who is suffering can hear that.
``It's something that has been very well received and people seem to want to hear about it wherever I go. It's exciting for me.''
Aldridge is retired now and spends the majority of his time giving programs on paranoid schizophrenia and how he lived through it.
He said he is now happy, healthy and _ after spending almost a third of his life fighting mental illness _ ready to settle back and enjoy life.
``I think my life is real normal right now,'' Aldridge said. ``I feel blessed. I can pay the bills and be happy and I don't have the responsibilities of a regular job.
``All I'm doing is being retired. I think it's heaven.''