Lia’s Story

Mental Illness. Two words. Many assumptions. Two words, synonymous with guilt, shame and stigma. Two words, misunderstood. Two words, silenced. That is why I am here today to speak to this silence. I am here to share my story. By adding this story to the collage created by many, I aim to change perceptions and create awareness. I am not trying to shift the tectonic plates of your brain enough to create a mountain, in fact I know I can’t, but I am aiming to create a small earthquake. I hope that this earthquake will bring up awareness, spark new ideas and form positive perceptions of the words mental illness and the disease itself.

There is a story of a man who grew up with little but formed his own future. He graduated from Georgetown University, and was accepted by Stanford Business School. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer for a local start-up by the name of eBay. He married, had 3 daughters, and worked so hard, always striving for new ideas and innovations. This man, and the smartest person I knew, was my father. He had mental illness.

My dad passed away from mental illness 3 and a half years ago. I had no idea that he was suffering until I found out that it took his life. I ask myself why I didn’t know, or even if I wanted to – but when I look at how mental illness is portrayed, I understand. Less than 15 people knew that my dad was suffering from the time he was diagnosed until his death, and I wasn’t one of them. 15 people is way too few, but serves as a definite call to action. We need to be the change for those suffering in silence.

When the news was shared with me, I didn’t know what mental illness was or what it meant – even though explanations were attempted. All I knew was that it had stolen my father, and that it was overpoweringly terrifying. But my perceptions have evolved, and I am no longer scared. My tragedy is an opportunity for me to start the conversation about mental illness, and to be part of ending the stigma around it.

What my dad was going through was the result of a disease. He was not crazy. He did not want this difficult illness much less cause it himself. My father was brilliant, and the most caring parent I could wish for. And yes he had bipolar, OCD and depression – but that did not form his amazing character. I know that what I just said is the truth, but I also know that ignorance can blind people and that is what has always been hardest for me. Some people might think that my dad chose to die, because the way that he died is traditionally thought of as a choice – suicide. But his passing was the result of a sickness. The mixed up chemistry in his brain had a horrible fatal result, just like any other disease would mess with your body.

That is the actuality of the illness. As a society we have to dig up this actuality and learn to honor and believe it. When these truths are mangled, twisted and turned into offensive stigma, the silence and pain continues on. So things need to revolutionize – we need to be able to talk about mental illness like any other disease. The volumes on the voices that that offend, discriminate, and isolate people struggling – should be muted. The voices that are talking about mental illness like a disease and respecting the struggles of the people dealing with it – those voices need to be shouted.

My mom tells me that pink clouds are the mark of someone who has passed smiling down at you, wherever there are pink clouds right now, dad – this speech is for you. I am doing this for you – to give back to all you have given me. I love you and miss you all the time. I promise that things are going to change, that mental illness will not be something to be ashamed of and the conversation will start. We need to bring change to mind, and educate the truth. Also – I am going to edit my earlier analogy – I do want to create a mountain, but with small earthquakes, and you are going to be one of the many. The negative perceptions of the disease will be destroyed by the shaking in your brain, and newer more positive ones rebuilt. The news of these earthquakes will spread around the world, with many more people offering support. I believe that this mountain will form, it will be tall and strong and proud. Many people will climb this mountain, and it will be harder for some than others, but the ends will justify the means. The view from the peak of the mountain will make the whole journey worth it, because there will be those beautiful pink clouds smiling down on this marvelous mountain that has been created. Thank you.

Lia’s Speech at the Third Annual BC2M Gala on November 9, 2015 in NYC

20 responses to “Lia’s Story”

  1. Kathy C says:

    Wow!!! Such courage to talk about something that is so much needed. I am a grief counselor and work with families who have lost a loved one to suicide. I will definitely give them this site to see how no matter how young you are, you have a strong voice to help educate others about Mental Illness and by doing so give a voice not only to an important message but to your grief. Your message will reach those in need in the Midwest. God bless you and your family.

  2. Terry says:

    Bless you Lia for speaking up and speaking out. You’re an inspiration. Your dad was wonderful and his life was too short. Keep up the good work.

  3. Lisa S says:

    Lia, you are an inspiration and I’m going to share this with students at my high school in San Diego (I’m a school counselor). Thank you for having the strength to share your story with others- you are amazing!

  4. Teri B says:

    Lia, I know your mother and your father, looking down on you, are both so proud of you! You are so brave to speak out on behalf of those with mental illness! Having family members with depression and bipolar disorder, I know the struggles they go through. Mental illness is an illness and we shouldn’t make people feel ashamed for having an illness. That was a great speech and I wish you well in continuing your work to raise public awareness of the disease of mental illness!

  5. Kate O'Neil says:

    Beautifully said, Lia. Your brilliance and bravery are a gift. Those of us who strive to find the words that trigger earthquakes should be inspired to move mountains by the power of your experience and consequent words. Thank you.

  6. J Corley A says:

    Lia, what an amazing and strong young lady you are. This is the most moving, heartfelt, and important publications I have read in a very long time. Having first worked as a psychiatric social worker in the 1970’s, it is so sad to say that all these decades later, very little has changed in society’s perception of mental illness. However, with advocates such as you and your family, I can only have high hopes to see the positive changes so greatly needed in my lifetime. Sending love and admiration to you, your sisters, and your mother.

  7. marabe says:

    Hi Lia –
    You are a remarkably strong young woman with a fierce desire to see some much needed changes. My father also took his iown life, tho mental illness as we know it was not involved. My brother in law also, after years of battling bipolar. I have lived w/ bipolar since a teen, and am now at retiring age. Back in the dark tho not darkest ages when mental illness had no medication relief, and was seen as un-recoverable. My family shamed me, and for much of my life I hid my illness, like your father did for fear of stigma and reproach. But I raised my children with full knowledge of my disease, in an effort to neutralize the stigma that society could levy on them. Many many people with mental illjess. often bipolar and schizophrenia have near genius minds. We need to highlight and applaud them. More than a few of our modern inventions and discoveries were made by folks with these mental illnesses.
    I see that you are a natural born writer, and I hope you will consider a book or two on your fathers life, or even the unknown liives of other great successful people who have contributed much to our world even with mental illness.
    Positive support always –

  8. Rosie says:

    Thank you Lia for sharing your story. Your Dad would be very proud of you. Your story can help many to understand that mental illness is just that, an illness. An illness as any other and treatment should be available for all. Keep sharing your story.

  9. Carol S@ says:

    What a beautiful tribute. It’s heartbreaking that such stigma further isolates a person already suffering. I’m so sorry for your loss. As a parent, I know your dad must have been so proud of your gentle heart.
    I’m traveling this journey with my child. His courage in getting up every day inspires me. ♡

  10. Mara J says:

    I am on a mission with my new non for profit to make mental health awareness bigger than breast cancer awareness and I would love your support!!! We CAN End the silence!!!

  11. Mary T says:

    Powerful. I hope you find peace and hope by sharing your story. I lost my dad to suicide in1982. He is missed every day. The father of 3 daughters, devoted husband, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend to many. Dedicated employee and Navy veteran. Like your dad a protector of all he loved, never sharing his own struggles. The silence and shame will continue to move in a positive direction by your work. ✌mary

  12. Tiffany A. says:

    I love helping create awareness for mental illnesses. I am involved in a National Student Organization called Active Minds. Active Minds also works to promote mental illness awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses including, but not limited to, those you mentioned above. We do Suicide prevention walks to help raise money for the same cause and meet to discuss how we can help create discussion about mental illnesses.
    I am encouraged to see that this mission is carrying out into other venues, and I look forward to see what’s next for Bring Change 2 Mind.

  13. Susan says:

    Thank you, Lia, for shining a light into one of the darkest places I’ve ever been in. My father also surrendered his life of pain when I was just 13. The shame was so great that my family never talked about him again. Literally. I was introduced to a concept that has haunted me for 53 years: if you have mental illness (not that those words were used), you can never talk about it. And also, that if you “can’t handle life”, death is the only way out of your pain. I did have mental illness, though I was referred to as “too sensitive” and told I needed to get over myself, look on the bright side, or go to church more. As an adult, after many years of addiction, I was given help. But the shame will always be with me. Thank you for shining that light for all of us.

  14. Michelle L says:

    Lia, you are I have a similar story, with my Dad’s depression (and alcoholism) taking him away from me 5 years ago, 19 Sept 2010. I just finished a NAMI Family to Family class a month ago. 12 weeks of learning and accepting and education to help the others in my family. God Bless you and your family. I think what you are doing is wonderful and so very necessary. I have children, ages 10 (just turned 11) and 12 who were 5 and 7 when suicide took their grandfather away from them. They are so young and I have chosen to not tell them what happened to my Dad. I am not ready to. I think what you are doing is awesome and I pray for your courage and hope to someday be able to speak about it like you do. God Bless and thank you. Michelle, Ludlow, MA

  15. Sue says:

    Your strength is amazing and your description of mental illness is right on. I too have bipolar disorder and have too many times been on the brink of ending my life with suicide. I am a teacher and so many times I feel shame if I have to take a medical leave due to my illness. The power in your words helped me to be strong in my ability to not be ashamed.

  16. David E says:

    Thank you Lia for your insights and sharing such loving words in honor of your beloved father. It is so true that climbing the mountain of mental illness is a daunting task for those suffering with bi polar or any other illness of the mind. I am bi polar and have experienced many difficulties coping with the troublng symptoms. I have found that the stigma attached to mental illness prevents many from reaching out and advocating for our cause. One other thing about battling these illnesses is that we have to accept our desease and try and prevent the uninformed from stigmatizing ourselves. God Bess to you.

  17. Gene B says:

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful and important words.

  18. Ned says:

    Lia, your dad would be so proud of you, and your beautiful words are just one of the many reasons. You are an amazing young woman, wise beyond your years, and we all cannot wait to watch how you continue to make the world a better place.

  19. Gerry L says:

    As a fellow survivor of suicide, I salute your courage and strength. Thanks for being one more voice shining a light on mental illness. We can end the stigma!

  20. oheidio says:

    Thank you, Lia for shining a light in dark corners. If enough of us shine our lights together, just imagine what we can accomplish. This is a cancer. And I remember when we didn’t talk about cancer in polite company and now that has changed, within my lifetime. We can change this too, and help all those who are touched by mental illness. Which is really everyone.

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