Hope: 1. Stigma: 0.

It has to hit you in just the right way at just the right time. You don’t see it coming, but suddenly your family is looking at you as if you are an intruder in their home. They are horrified. You are crying uncontrollably at that television commercial where the kids are…and then the old man and his little dog says…and then the football quarterback hands the little boy his…and then everyone is holding hands and singing.

You know the one I mean.

And your family is so embarrassed for you, they take a collective and silent vow to never show you anything remotely close to this commercial on youtube. No one wants to see this display of weird and uncomfortable emotion from you ever again.

The times I cry at commercials almost always takes me by surprise. So, imagine my surprise when I came downstairs to make coffee early one morning before work this week, clicked on the TV, and saw a young bald woman being told by, who I am assuming is her mother, “Really a lot of people are worse off than you, ya know.”

Then in the next scene, her father says, “I’m getting tired of hearing about this.”

At this point, whatever this commercial is for, it has my attention.

“Oh honey, snap out of it.”

“You’re kinda dragging me down.”

“Why don’t you just go outside. Get some sunshine. You’ll be fine.”

“Can we stop with the pity party?”

Tears are streaming down my face as I see the expression on the young woman’s face. I can actually see her pain and feelings of abandonment. The words that appear on the screen next have now caused me to sit down because even though all I see are these nine words, I know exactly what is coming next.

“You’d never talk like this to someone with cancer.”

Now I can hear myself crying. My hand is covering my mouth and I’m feeling raw and relieved at the same time. The sentences that come next push me over the edge.

“Don’t talk like this to someone with depression.”
“Depression is real. Serious. Life threatening.”

I sat there for a few moments not knowing what to think. I have cried at many commercials before this one, but the only thing this public service announcement was selling was compassion and love for people who struggle with mental illness and their families and friends who love them.

It was a breath of fresh air and a sign that mental illness is being recognized for the serious, life-threatening, and real physical illness that it is.

That commercial changed the rest of my day.

I’m glad no one was around to see it with me. No, wait. I wish anyone who has ever known my kids and I were there to see how excruciating mental illness can be and how thinking that a walk outside on a sunny day will fix everything.

Would you tell a 25-year-old with cancer or diabetes or multiple sclerosis to walk it off? Stop complaining because there are other people worse off? Snap out of it? You wouldn’t.

I didn’t see it coming, but this commercial gave me hope. Hope that there are people out there who know exactly what mental illness does and how it affects everyone involved.

Hope: 1.
Stigma: 0.

And this is how we get there.







Those Shoes

When my kids were young, I was given a pair of brown Bass leather shoes by my mother-in-law. I didn’t really like them at first, but as I wore them, they became more a part of my feet and so, a part of my life. Those shoes were the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. I can’t even find them today. I tried. Bass does not make them anymore. I did however, find another pair 20 years ago, right after I got the first pair, and bought them at an outlet store. So then I had two pairs of these wonderful, comfortable, great-looking shoes that I could wear all the time.

I didn’t know it when I got those shoes, but I would walk through darkness wearing them.

My son, who was just starting school at the time, seemed shy and more of a watcher, than a doer. His blonde curls and bright blue eyes made him the center of attention wherever we went. He and his sisters were beautiful children who grew into beautiful young adults, and when we went anywhere together, everything seemed perfect.

But it wasn’t.

Getting my son to school was exhausting. He cried. He pretended to be sick. He got angry. As an elementary teacher, I knew some degree of anxiety and fear occurs in many children the first day of Kindergarten, but it never got easier for Christopher. We started with our pediatrician and was soon immersed in the world of psychologists and psychiatrists and special education. His severe dyslexia co-existed with a fear of school that scared me. It was hard to understand. As the years went by, we sought out therapists and began what would become an excruciating trek through the world of anti-depressants, mood enhancers, sleep aids, and anxiety medications, endless appointments, hospitalization, and pain.

His diagnosis was severe anxiety disorder. He was bullied in high school, had a panic attack and refused to go back. By then, I was a single mom. Working together with teachers, guidance counselors, and teams of special education professionals, we tried countless programs that, one-by-one, proved to be inadequate. Soon, no one knew what to do. He turned 18 years old, and it seemed as if he had dropped off the planet.

I visited day programs. I sought out groups and other types of therapy that I thought would work, but my son was entrenched in his depression and anxiety. He soon became 21, 22, 23, 24 years old…and could not leave the house. He began attending church, held a six-hour-a-week job there, and was mentored by a wonderful former educator and pastor. He is 29 years old now and he is back even further than where he started. A new diagnosis of bipolar is being kicked around. Meds are being messed with. Life at home is depressing and bleak.

He has lost all hope.

Through all of this, I have learned that hope is the one thing that will make things change. And without hope, there is nothing.

Sometimes I wish I had that pair of brown Bass shoes to walk around in now. They wouldn’t solve my son’s pain and his struggles with mental illness and hopelessness. But just maybe I would feel a little more comfortable in this world. Because unless you have walked a mile in my shoes, you have no idea what parenting a young adult with a severe mental illness is like.

I wear those shoes. Every day. And if you are wearing those shoes, too, I understand.

I get it.