Let me start with a little about our walk history. My co-captain, Chrisa, is a powerhouse for fundraising, as well as everything she does, particularly fighting for her son Tim’s care. You may have seen her posts on Facebook or read her blog “The Mindstorm” http://chrisahickey.blogspot.com/ about her family’s journey with mental illness. Chrisa and I love a good competition, and our NAMI has not been disappointed. Every year they have put out prizes for the top fundraising teams, individuals, as well as drawings and all sorts of surprises. Year one was a meet and greet and lunch with Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers. Tim (15 at the time) is a HUGE Packer fan, so there was no question, we HAD to win (and we did).
Year two was another Packer opportunity, this time with Ryan Grant, but we were up against a very powerful team, ‘Remembering Eric Kloth’. You can learn about Eric’s story, his bright future and the illness that eventually claimed his life in May, 2010 in this eloquent article: http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/104221114.html. In the final hours before the walk, ‘Remembering Eric Kloth’ crept into the lead. I said to Chrisa, “They lost their son, we still have our children. They deserve to win.” Chrisa agreed, but added “and we’re fighting to keep our kids alive”. After the winner was announced (we came in 2nd) ) Eric’s mom invited Tim and his dad to attend the meet and greet luncheon with them, so that Tim could be a part of the Packer experience.
Years three and four have seen the Kloth team hold on to 1st place by a considerable margin. We all celebrate and applaud their accomplishment because it keeps Eric’s memory alive while making a huge difference for others. The support they provide to NAMI goes right back out into the community, right back out there to making a difference for every person out there who isn’t able to participate in the walk, who isn’t able to rally together a team of supporters, who may not even know that NAMI exists.
This year, our normally robust and enthusiastic team consisted of just 3 people: me, Tim and Tom (Tim’s Dad). And of course, our faithful dog, Domino, complete with his Bring Change 2 Mind bandana. It wasn’t for lack of support or caring, life just got in the way and so many of our team members were pulled away by other demands – jobs, high school prom, rehearsals, and yes, of course, mental illness. It didn’t matter. We were among a huge family of 87 other teams and nearly 1000 other walkers, all walking for the same reason. To stomp out stigma and to raise funds to help others. We proudly walked with our banner, our t-shirts and our message. And I was thankful that as bad as things may get, we were not wearing lanyards with a photo of one of our children. We were not walking in memory of; we were walking in honor and support of, Tim, my daughters, relatives and friends.
Bottom line, there are no winners and losers in mental illness. We’re all in this together. When any of our kids hurt, we all hurt. Whenever we can do something to help, we do so because these are all our children, no matter if they are age 4 or 40.
Nanci Schiman is a licensed social worker with a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has over 10 years’ professional experience in child and adolescent mental health, family support, advocacy, writing, public speaking and collaborating with local and national mental health organizations. On a personal level Nanci and her husband are parents of three daughters ages 16, 18 and 20. The oldest and youngest were diagnosed with bipolar disorder at ages 9 and 10 respectively.