It’s Something We Run From

Amber Naslund TEDxPeachtree

Photo credit: Matt Ridings

“We congratulate people who beat cancer, but we run screaming from someone when they say they suffer from mental illness.”

Run screaming. Maybe we hide. Change the conversation. Make an excuse to grab another cocktail or shuttle off to the bathroom.

We’ll discuss cancer or the after effects of a car accident until we’re blue in the face, but why won’t we talk about mental illness?

Ask yourself: Why won’t I talk about it?

At the beginning of November, I flew out to Atlanta, Georgia for TEDxPeachtree 2012. It was my second year attending and there was a single motivation for my attendance: Amber Naslund would be speaking. She and I both worked with the same speaking coach (Erin Weed) to hone our talks, and it simply wasn’t an event I was going to miss and just wait for the video someday, somehow.

Today, take 17 minutes and meet Amber. Maybe you think you already know her — but I’m betting you don’t. I sat in the front row during her talk next to Matt Ridings and damn the cameras if they didn’t get a great shot of both of us wiping tears from our eyes. Amber shared a story — one of a lifetime struggle against mental illness — that I know all too well. See, my mom is bipolar. She’s the most important woman in my life, responsible in more ways than I can share or properly credit for the woman I’ve become, and has traveled a nearly 40-year journey with mental illness. And thanks to some fantastic mental health professionals, she’s “mom” when I visit now. More importantly, she’s here — in this life. She’s also the one person in this world that I could never possibly tell that I love her enough. That I’ll fight for her. And that I’m glad she found people who would take the journey with her and fight for her.

We don’t wake up one morning and think:

I’m going to get cancer today.

I’m going to take an epic fall climbing today.

I’m going to endo my mountain bike on a secluded trail today.

I’m going to become bipolar today.

We don’t.

But I thank Amber for not just the courage it took for her to share her story and her call to action. I thank her for reminding me that my mom is my mom, a woman who faces mental illness and fights that fight each day, and in spite of it all, did a damn fine job raising three kids while building an entirely new career as a single mother in her 30s and 40s so we could all have a better life.

So mom — yeah. You. You’re beautiful.

And Amber? Thank you for making me cry. Making me feel. And making everyone else in the room that day come to their feet to give you the applause, recognition, and most importantly, the support and understanding you and so many others deserve.

Why do we run from a mental illness? Some do, some don’t. Perhaps you’ll change the direction your feet move after seeing this.


16 comments
Kirk Thomas
Kirk Thomas

Ummm... What part of positively fucking amazing might one not understand? I've been touched with these issues with friends and family and she is spot on.

Dianna Smith
Dianna Smith

There are not words. Thank you for sharing this. My mother did not make it off of the shower floor alive. I miss her. This is an important message. I am left raw.

Sc Sales
Sc Sales

Thank you for sharing this. I have struggled with depression for over 25 years and was told by my family when I wanted to get help (back at the beginning) that I was lying and that no one in our family was going to see a shrink. I was warned not to speak about any of it and it was years later that I sought help after finally hearing from my mother that she had gone to get help and it was okay to get medication for it. We have to bring attention to these issues. Just because there are no physical signs of illness doesn't mean that something isn't wrong and telling someone that they're not hurting or to keep it to themselves is the worst possible thing that you can do.

Greg Mischio
Greg Mischio

Yeah aren't we all a little crazy and weird, and shouldn't we understand this stuff instead of running from it?

Karisa Dern
Karisa Dern

Thank you for writing this and raising the important topic of me illness. It's so silent and it affects so many.

Carol Smith
Carol Smith

Once again ... you have shone a light directly where there was darkness. And a HUGE thank you to Amber for bearing her soul. It took an awe inspiring kind of strength to do that. Kudos to her! Keep writing/ranting. We all love you!

Kellie J. Walker
Kellie J. Walker

Now that I'm done crying... Thank you so much for sharing this, Red. I lived with anxiety and depression for 30 years without knowing it. I thought what I felt was normal. When I finally realized what was going on and got help, I learned very quickly that the vast majority of those who loved me couldn't handle knowing what was going on. I still remember telling a friend over a decade ago, "Because I don't deserve God's love." when she asked me why I didn't go to church. Her response? "You don't mean that!" Nothing I could say could help her understand where I was coming from. I was able to work through the anxiety with lots of talk therapy. But, found the depression to be chronic. Some days I hate that I have to medicate it. Most days I'm just grateful I *can* medicate it. I agree with Amber on everything she said, especially about needing to shine a light. Bless her for her courage. Bless you for your generosity. Love to you both.

Oz
Oz

There is so much to be said about this topic. I think that "stigma" is real but it's waning. More people do speak about challenges with mental illness, whether it's their own or someone close to them. One thing about being open about mental illness (BTW, I was diagnosed with adult ADHD almost 10 yrs ago) is the risk of opening a conversation about maybe I need to change my diet or get more sleep. NO! I've learned to invite people to back off. That's a discussion for me and my doctor. My medicine works fine, thank you. A bigger concern that I have is with this fad of so many people offering themselves as some kind of professional coach. Some of these well-meaning people can do a lot of harm if they aren't trained to tell the difference between someone being lazy or unfocused and someone dealing with mental illness. We do have to acknowledge that mental illness isn't obvious like a broken leg or a person losing weight due to cancer. A person can appear to be "difficult" or "a drama queen" but what's REALLY going on? Hard to say. And with all the self-help books and seminars, and smarmy quotes that people post on Facebook, it would seem that a person can just pull it together. Well ... maybe. Maybe not.

Amber Naslund
Amber Naslund

Thank you so much, my friend, for sharing this. Give my love to your mom. And you'll never know quite how grateful I am that you and Matt were there to give me strength and courage that day. Having friendly faces in the audience, even with tears, made all the difference in the world. My gratitude, always. Thank you, thank you.