I like to walk. A lot. And since my husband and I live near Memorial Park, I normally indulge my love of the fast stroll there. After becoming a regular on the Memorial Park loop, I have come to recognize other more colorful regulars whom I identify as:
- Overcoat and fedora guy
- Tippy-toes running girl (ouch!)
- Intense double-stroller mom
- Super-annoying Bluetooth-using woman who always TALKS VERY LOUDLY (she shared her colonoscopy situation in great detail with everyone within earshot)
- All-over-body tattoo dude
- Shirtless lawyer guy who is losing serious weight by the week
And then there are the dogs — the amazing pups of every shape and color — beagles, poodles, terriers, hounds, Weimaraners, Bichons, and the cutie pie Chihuahuas which remind me of my own precious Tinker from days gone by. Love 'em all.
This is indeed the season of the walk for various cures — all of which clearly involve deserving and noble causes. But I am focusing on the upcoming NAMIWalk.
Until recently, I had no idea of what NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) was and what they did for the community. Quite honestly, I had no reason to get involved until someone very near and dear to me was afflicted with a mental disorder.
Now that I know of NAMI’s mission and the people they help, I am fully on board. Do you know that 1 in 5 families are affected with some sort of mental health issue in any given year?
In 2008, my beautiful, smart, creative and competitive daughter who was an honor student, artist, and fine equestrian was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Oh sure, I thought I knew what that meant-something that would be treated and then go away, nothing that awful, really.
As for my daughter? Will she get better? I think this may happen — or it may not. But there is hope. Always hope.
Who has not accused someone or themselves, jokingly, as being “schizo” or “mental” or “crazy”?
I was completely ignorant of this condition and had no idea the devastating degree this would affect my daughter and our entire family. To hear the news from her doctor and then have to process the reality of this condition in what is essentially a life sentence for my daughter was — and still is — surreal.
I spent the first few years after learning of this diagnosis trying to help my daughter, but I was in denial mode and most likely confused and downright angry. I like things to make sense, and this just did not.
I first heard about NAMI from my daughter’s psychiatrist. But I felt that I had read and researched all I possibly could about schizophrenia. However, I realized I needed help in dealing with this complicated issue and enrolled in the Family-to-Family series of classes that NAMI offers for free.
I recently completed 12 weeks of learning more about my daughter’s diagnosis and the prospects for her recovery than I could have ever learned on my own. As I came to realize, mental illness is everywhere — in every socio-economic area, every country, every city.
If you don’t think you know someone with some type of mental disorder, you are mistaken. It might be a co-worker, neighbor, friend, or family member, and you may never learn about their condition because the stigma that mentally ill people unfortunately have to deal with on top of spending an inordinate amount of time just to get through the day, is often so terrifying that they often keep quiet-thus suffering in silence and all too often bypassing needed treatment.
My daughter is fortunate to be receiving excellent treatment and has the support of a strong family network. But many aren’t so lucky. There aren’t a lot of resources out there for people without outside help. To say that these are challenging times for families struggling with these disorders is a tremendous understatement.
As for my daughter? Will she get better? I think this may happen — or it may not.
But there is hope. Always hope.
And with the care and attention of groups like NAMI, funds can be directed toward research and studies that are making major headway into finding better and improved treatments for people struggling with mental disorders.
This is my first time to publicly speak out about my daughter’s struggle and my first time to participate in the NAMIWalk, which takes place Saturday at Tranquility Park. But it won’t be my last.
I am convinced it is time to bring mental disorders out of the dark ages of debilitating stigma, shame and whispers and into the forefront of an enlightened population. If we as a community can make such incredible headway to generate public awareness for important issues such as breast cancer, AIDS, domestic violence, and animal welfare, it is time for mental illness to become recognized as the terrible, insidious problem that affects so many men, women, and children in our country.
Time to look for cures and better treatments. It is definitely time.