I was born in 1975 in a small New Jersey farming community. Growing up in the 80’s was interesting to say the least! I think mine was the last generation that actually went outside to play. I saw civilization go from basic TV with rabbit ears and 4 channels, no remote to “Alexa, do it for me”. I saw the first microwave oven, VCR, computer and cell phone (anyone remember having beepers?)
But the one thing in all those years of ingenuity, invention and “evolution” that hasn’t changed is the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness.
When I was a kid if there was someone in your family with a mental illness you hid it. The adults would make up these fabricated stories as to where “uncle Johnny” was last year and why he never called anymore. It just wasn’t acceptable to ask for help, we didn’t know that there were actual chemical imbalances in the brain causing uncle Johnny to stay in bed all day and forget to shower. Uncle Johnny was lazy if he couldn’t hold down a job and no one was going to support him while he tried to figure out how to take care of himself.
I always knew that I was different from everyone else. My mom was different too. I had trouble making friend and dealing with bullies. I head self esteem issues and did crazy things to get attention. I remember the anger I used to feel and how hard it was to focus those feelings. I remember hitting myself in the head and pulling my own hair out when I was frustrated. I couldn’t talk to mom about it because I knew that I would be told that I was just being spoiled or that it was just puberty. I hid it from everyone the best I could.
Thankfully, in the 80’s it was safe for me to get on my bike early in the morning and just disappear until curfew. I would ride and take walks in the woods with no defined trails, just get lost in nature, away from everyone and everything that demanded so much of me. I was lucky.
In my early 20’s I found my sister asleep in her bed with a kitchen knife. She tried to tell me that she was afraid of someone breaking in, but I knew better. I thank God every day that something changed her mind.
After my second son was born no one recognized my post partum depression and even if they did, I wouldn’t have been allowed to admit it or talk about it. I never bonded with my son and 19 years later, I still haven’t been able to bond with him, mostly out of my own guilt. I never wanted him to know that I didn’t love myself enough to live anyone else. I never wanted him to find out that mommy took an entire bottle of antidepressants because I didn’t want to be here anymore.
The funny thing is, he was named after my favorite star trek character at the time, Wesley Crusher played by Wil Wheaton. The day before writing this and setting up this profile I came across a FB share about Wil Wheaton. Last year Wil spoke at the NAMI conference about his own chronic depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Being the same age, I was not surprised to read that during the same ages of my struggles with the stigma of a mental health illness, so did he. Like me, he didn’t blame his caregivers, he understood what admitting to mental illness meant back then. He doesn’t hide anymore, and neither will I! (Btw… I think fate may have actually named my son to bring me full circle to the connection that I didn’t know was there with the actor)
In my 30’s, finally my family realizes that we can’t ignore these things anymore. My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (something I had expected since my teens)
My sister’s diagnoses are depression and anxiety, my father’s were depression and chemical dependence. And in the last years of my 30’s I was given my very own bipolar disorder diagnosis.
I don’t hide. I don’t lie or make up stories about my behaviors. I’m honest with those around me. I wear my bipolar proudly! It’s time to come out of the shadows and realize that a little chemical or electrical imbalance in our brains do NOT define us! We are not our disease, we have nothing to be ashamed of. This is exactly as God intended us to be. I Will not hide in shame, I will take this time to hike the Appalachian trail and let nature heal my mind, heart and soul. I Will take this opportunity to show everyone that mental illness does not mean you can’t do amazing things.
Please, help me raise awareness. Help me get the world to understand that there is no shame to be felt for a medical condition that is entirely out of our control. It’s time to lift our voices, stand proud and fill our hearts with love for those of us that need it most.
I hike for myself, I hike for others, I hike for mental health!
1 in 4 families is affected by mental illness.
HIKE for Mental Health is a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded on the vision of a world in which everyone, including those who suffer mental illness, can find the simple joy of living.
Our mission is to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by mental illness, eliminate the associated stigma, and foster responsible use of wilderness trails.
As an all-volunteer organization, we distribute 100% of contributions raised by our hikes.
- 80% funds scientific research to understand and treat mental illness
- 20% conserves national wilderness trails
Your donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by the IRS. Thank you for your support.
To learn more, visit hikeformentalhealth.org.
To join a hike click here.