I was participating in the annual Walk held by the St. Louis affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This was my third time at the event. The first was several years ago, when Donna and I walked but really had no vested interest. We didn’t know anyone else there beyond the acquaintance stage, and we didn’t donate or raise any money for the cause. Last year, after Donna and I had begun speaking in conjunction with NAMI and I was invited to join the affiliate’s board of directors, I showed up alone with the intention of meeting some people; thanks to a lot of rain, I walked for an hour and left immediately.
I’m sort of “all in” with NAMI now. I say that with both pride and humility.
I’m proud to represent NAMI as Donna and I share the story of our journey (so far) with major depression and severe anxiety. We’ve given our “In Our Own Voice” presentation about 20 times the last 16 months. We have met people who are both grateful and emotional in learning they aren’t alone in their difficult experience.
Through NAMI, I also have met people who have been battling some form of mental illness for years, even decades. Yes, depression has dramatically altered my life. But I still have a life. I have encountered men and women who have lived with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and other illnesses. They are some of the bravest people I ever have met. They are among the reasons motivating my involvement. Increasing awareness about mental illness and raising money for the NAMI programs might help make their lives a little easier, so I walk and speak and write and meet.
Many of those who suffer from mental illness were among the hundreds of walkers Saturday at Forest Park in St. Louis. Also on hand were many people who put in huge amounts of time as NAMI St. Louis employees, volunteers and board members who put in the time and effort because they feel the same as I do. They are heroic in their endeavors as well.
And there were family and friends at the Walk. We had 11 of us walking with the Madge’s Polish Falcons team – named for my mom, who suffered severe depression for decades – and raised more than $600. Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, considering our goal for the day was $160,000. But we had fun, one of the few times we actually could say that regarding anything connected to my 14 years with depression. We found solidarity with not only the others with mental illnesses, but also all those other people who love and help care for those people.
The pain was forgotten – or ignored – for a few hours Saturday morning. For a while, none of us were ashamed or afraid. We didn’t have to talk about mental illness or medication or episodes or any treatments to pull us out of those episodes.
Now, if we just can do that the rest of the year.