“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.
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.