Hosting this blog is taking me on a journey I must navigate with humility and trustworthiness. Receiving, and sometimes editing your stories, is a responsibility I take seriously. I find myself in awe of your strength, courage and raw honesty. Some days my heart hurts after hearing of your struggles. I have to turn off my computer and go for long walks. Or call a friend. Or play with my cat. I have to pace myself so I'm not overwhelmed with sadness. So I don't give up hope that things can and will get better for my community -- the community of the seriously mentally ill.
As I say in my "Hello," my goal for this blog is to help move our stories of serious mental illness into mainstream discourse. More often than not, our stories don't get out to the broader public because of all the suffering that can bring.
When my son, Pat, was alive -- he died in 2014 on a hospital psych ward where I thought he was safe -- he never wanted me to talk about his illness. He was afraid, if people knew, he wouldn't be able to get a job, or a girlfriend, or decent housing. Sometimes he was in denial. He hated his illness and wanted, more than anything, to not have bipolar disorder. For the most part, I respected his wishes although, at times, reticence complicated our efforts to get help. Today, with my son's shoes empty and still, I've thrown the gags that muffled my advocacy work in the trash.
Advocacy, however, is never simple. As I ask you to consider telling your stories, many of you face the dilemmas I faced. Sometimes you say, "Not now." "My daughter doesn't want me to say anything." "I'm afraid to reveal my illness." "I don't want to upset my family."
Believe me. I get this. At the same time I wonder, when we hide so much, how will we make the world fight for what should be a moral imperative: compassionate and competent mental health care? This is our Catch 22. By keeping our stories private, our trauma and tragedies stay secret too. We lose traction for getting public understanding and support.
I don't have answers. I don't give advice. When dealing with serious mental illness, you're fighting battles so confounding that, somedays, even God wouldn't know what to do. You're exhausted. But, when you can, please tell your stories. Our stories have power.