I really, really do not like fund raising. I feel insecure and unsteady. I am not sure what to say or how to ask for donations even for a cause that I support whole-heartedly. It brings forth middle- school insecurities, feelings of appearing too needy and it makes me feel awkward. But as I work on fund-raising for our NAMI-BC2M walk team I realize that it is a very similar feeling to those I experienced when first venturing into the world of mental illness. While struggling to find my daughter care I felt extremely exposed and that my world could easily fall apart with just a little rejection.
I can only imagine how difficult it can be for someone living with a mental illness. Reaching out to others with a request for support can leave a person feeling very vulnerable. What if that person says, “No”? What if he or she wonders why I couldn’t provide the resources myself and why did I need to ask others? The very act of asking others for support is difficult for many of us and, I believe, particularly so when we are in our most fragile state.
Mental illness preys upon confidence and security, not only of the person living with a mental illness but their families as well. It leaves one feeling alone and uncertain of the future as well as the immediate present. What can help this journey through the initial symptoms and tentative and eventually more assured diagnosis to stability and recovery? I believe that a crucial component is confidence that there is a team who cares and will not turn away but will listen and then listen even harder; a team that will offer support, and stay the course with steadiness, resolve, hope and belief in better days.
Those who donated to our walk believe that their donations make a difference. They listened to my request for support and they did what they could. I had a goal of 100 team members, each raising $100.00 from ten people – each giving $10.00. You see how easy it would be to raise $10,000.00 with each person offering a little? We have 57 people on the team and together we have raised close to $9,000.00! My personal goal was $1,000.00 and at this moment I am within $45.00 of that goal! Each “ask” felt uncomfortable but I did it anyway. I did it for the many, many people who live with mental illness and who live alone with their fear, their lack of resources and their uncertainty of their future. I did it because my family had a team walking with us when my daughter Linea was first hospitalized for suicide ideation. They were with us when she pushed back at her diagnosis of bipolar disorder with often unhealthy acts. They were there during the many, many days and nights when we thought we had lost her. They were with us through more hospitalizations and the very frightening but ultimately positive electroconvulsive therapy. They have been by our side when we shared our story to the nation a year ago this May, creating opportunity for criticism, second-guessing and much vulnerability. They have joined us in celebration as we connected with people all over the country who relate to our story and who told us they did not feel as alone as they did before reading our book. They cheered as Linea found her voice and this team of friends and family continue to support her as she works with national leaders fighting stigma, sharing resources and providing hope.
We all need a team of friends and family. In addition to raising money for NAMI and BC2M we walked with a team who “get it”. We walked with new friends and old who have been to the edge of hell with mental illnesses. Some have experienced great success, stability and recovery and some are living with unbearable heartbreak. Many on our team “came out” for the first time by participating in our walk. Together we support each other and we make the “ask”, if not for ourselves, for each other.
Cinda Johnson, Ph.D., is a professor and program director at Seattle University. She teaches graduate students in special education, school psychology, school counseling and community mental health. She and her daughter Linea are the authors of Perfect Chaos: A Daughter’s Journey with Bipolar, A Mother’s Struggle to Save Her (St. Martin’s Press, May 2012).