I have a problem with exclamation marks!!!!!! Yeah, like that. I guess that when I’m writing and feeling loud and fun I want to share my enthusiasm with you and how better to do that than use an !!!! But I really mean it! It’s a miracle that we get a whole month to talk about our stories or the stories of a loved one. We can spend this month hanging out our dirty laundry because we’re NOT ASHAMED of our mental health anymore! At least we shouldn’t be.
Right now I’m lying on my couch in Montana burning up with fever and feeling ever so awful. Fever and flu are acceptable illnesses. What did you feel when you read the above? Oh, poor Jessie, I hope she gets better fast. If I had told you that I was lying on my couch in Montana with voices in my brain what would you have thought? YIKES!? Too much information? I shouldn’t talk about mental illness like that?
In 2009 Glenn, my children (except for one) and Glenn’s daughter, traveled to Grand Central Station to shoot a public service announcement. I asked her, a few years before, if she could do something to help alleviate the suffering of mental illness. An exceptional team under the direction of Ron Howard gathered and came up with the now familiar PSA. We wore t-shirts; mine was ‘bipolar’, my elder son’s was ‘schizophrenic’ and Glenn’s was ‘sister’. My son and I were afraid and I tried to hide in an armchair. The echo in the train station was awful but the worst part was knowing that hundreds of people were looking at me and reading my shirt. I was sick with shame. I lived with undiagnosed bipolar disorder until I was 50. I knew I wanted Glenn to help but I hadn’t counted on ‘coming out’ myself.
That was the beginning and my dear sister has not failed to push and push and push the boundaries. We have come a very long way in only 5 years! We need ALL OF YOU to continue stepping up to talk about mental illness. I’m so proud of the progress we’ve made. I’m always surprised at how many people have stories of mental illness.
A few months ago I was traveling from somewhere to somewhere and was going to miss my flight if I didn’t get to the gate pronto. I saw one of those electric carts with a driver and yelled “Hey!”. He stopped and told me I could hop on. He asked me where I was going, and why, so I told him I was on my way to speak about mental health, mental illness. He was quite vociferous but after telling me all about the cart he was driving and all about which carts do what and how each cart made money, he slowly steered his many words to a tale about his mother-in-law. Suddenly I realized he was telling me that she was mentally ill. Perhaps it was because I was so stressed and tired but my eyes filled with tears. (I don’t cry easily) I was so very touched that he finally was telling me what really mattered. We spoke for a short while then reached my gate and I had to go.
It’s these anonymous conversations that plant the seeds of help that are so very important. I always talk about Bring Change 2 Mind because my story alone is not enough. On Bring Change 2 Mind’s website and social media channels there are so many faces and voices who talk about their experiences with mental illness.
In the New Testament, Hebrews 2:18:
“Because he himself has passed through the test of suffering,
He is able to help those who are in the midst of their test.”
(I substitute “she” and “herself” for me)
This is not a modern concept; I’m comforted to know this was written thousands of years ago – that human’s haven’t changed much.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I hope to reveal my mental illness to strangers more than usual this month. I’ll start the conversation by saying, “Do you know that this month is Mental Health Awareness Month? I have a mental illness and I’m so very grateful that we can at least talk about it this month, aren’t you?” Or, if you want to be more brazen, ask “Is there mental illness in your family? There is in mine…”
Let’s get out there and start the conversation. Begin by talking to neighbors, taxi drivers, store clerks, EVERYONE!!!! See? Sometimes exclamation marks really work!