Last June, I published this post about mental illness.
It had been a long time coming.
The inspiration had come two years prior, during my participation in the Fox Valley Writing Project. One of my fellow writers had shared a poem she had written about addiction.
In the last few lines, she disclosed the poem was about her daughter.
I was moved to tears by her story. By her honesty. By her bravery in sharing something so intensely personal.
Her poem haunted me for a long time. I simply could not get it out of my mind.
I began to think about the impact her words would have on others.
Eventually, I came to a realization. I knew what I needed to do.
So I sat down in front of my computer. And wrote. And cried. And deleted. And revised. And cried some more.
Over and over and over again, on and off, for almost two years.
I knew I needed to share my family’s story, but I was afraid of what others would think— of my daughter, of me, of our family.
And as much as I still don’t want to admit it, I was ashamed. Deeply ashamed.
When your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, the guilt is overwhelming. You failed to protect your child. You are responsible. You should have prevented it.
Looking back to that day last June, I have no idea what prompted me to finally hit the ‘publish’ button, but I can assure you, it most certainly was not because I was feeling brave.
The second I published, I was filled with misgivings.
And I waited, afraid of the silence I was sure would ensue.
But a beautiful thing happened.
I received words of appreciation, words of comfort, and most importantly, words of support.
There were so many (sadly, too many) people who reached out to share their story with me. I felt so incredibly honored. And no longer alone.
So now, months later, here I am again, bringing the topic of mental illness to your attention.
Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders.
ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dissociative disorders.
OCD, post traumatic stress disorder.
Substance abuse disorder.
43.8 million people in the United States experiencing a mental illness each year.
And guess what?
There is no cure for mental illness. No pill you can take, no shot that can be given that will take it all away.
You can seek professional help, you can nourish your body, you can exercise, you can get enough sleep, you can take medication.
You can recognize the symptoms, you can identify the triggers.
You can pray to God.
It can be managed. But it never completely goes away. It will always be a part of who you are.
So why I am focusing on mental illness this week?
Because yet another life was taken by mental illness this past week.
And a day after I learned of that tragedy, this book came in the mail. I had ordered it last week. Hardly a coincidence.
I read it cover to cover last night.
It was not easy for me to read. I saw way too many similarities between Maddy and my daughter, Kristin.
I am so filled with gratitude that Kristin’s story is still being written. And yet as I write this, I know each day she has to fight for her happiness.
The book was well written, but there was something missing. Maddy. I heard her story from the viewpoint of others. Oh, there were exerts from texts, and emails, and Instagram posts, but I couldn’t hear her voice. And I tried. I really tried. Which brings me to this: keep sharing your story. Reach out to others. Be that voice.
This is how we are going to make a difference.