Spotlight on Erasing the Stigma ~ St. Louis MICDS Documentary: Living With Mental Illness

Sometimes, just like the transformation of a delicate, beautiful butterfly with iridescent colored wings, the very things that matter most to many of us like our family, our friends, change, acceptance and support take awhile to grow.  We plant the seed…we wait for it to take hold.  We nurture…we watch.  We tend to…we love.  We prompt…and we patiently wait and hold onto hope.  And then, just like the butterfly, the very thing we were growing slowly and miraculously unfolds.

Erasing the stigma is one such thing that is near and dear to my heart as it is to many others.  And it is slowly unfolding as people talk more about it, and it’s being erased one person at a time.  One step my family and I have taken to erase the stigma is that we talk openly about mental illness, the challenges we face and how we cope as a family of a loved one with bipolar disorder.  And our loved one also desires to talk about living with bipolar disorder, and with time and support I am sure she will become an advocate helping others who walk the same walk.

It’s not easy being an open book.  There is this overwhelming sense of vulnerability that I sometimes feel that accompanies being open about mental illness and it’s effects.  I also have a gnawing sense of guilt.  I call it mommy guilt.  My mommy guilt thermometer rises as I find myself asking the question, “How can I put my family on the front-line of something so vast?”  And then I remember why.  It is for the very ones I love and the immeasurable number of others who are affected by stigma.  After all, we can’t just put stigma aside and expect for it to fade away.  Like the documentary points out 1 in 6 Americans is experiencing a mental illness this year.  Furthermore, stigma about mental illness prevents half of those with mental illness from seeking treatment.

To that end, Kim and I accepted an invitation to participate in the MICDS documentary titled: Living with Mental Illness: People are More than Patients.  After weeks of preparation students’ Anna, Chris and Darryl’s Mental Illness Documentary is complete.  It includes a segment from a Charlie Sheen interview and interviews with Tom, Fran and Kevin Smith of the Karla Smith Foundation, advocate Ellen Rosenbaum, Arlen Chaleff, Vice President of NAMI St. Louis, myself and Kim singing since she wasn’t present.  She sings “Mercy on Me” by Christina Aguilera, and at one point viewers will hear Kim singing “Save Me from Myself” also by Christina Aguilera.  These particular recordings are from 2007.

They did an excellent job of capturing the humanness of mental illness through the lens of families affected by mental illness and suicide and those who have and still struggle with emotional disorders.  They also did a beautiful job of showcasing the strengths and potential of someone with a mental illness.  Ellen Fein Rosenbaum is a past honoree of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans annual award along with honorees such as John F. Kennedy, Elvis and Bill Clinton.  Arlen Chaleff, Vice President of NAMI St. Louis, was one of four chosen for the St. Louis 2009 Women of Achievement Award.  And then…there is Kim.  She was our song bird, and as I mentioned in the interview, she seems to have lost her voice for now, but we have hope that she will regain balance and pursue her interests once again.  Just like the butterfly…it may take some time.  We tend to…we love.  We prompt…and we patiently wait and hold onto hope…

Sadly, Kim was not present for the interview as she had hoped she would be.  She didn’t make it home the night before.  When morning made it’s grand arrival and I wandered into Kim’s room I discovered her bed was empty.  In that moment I thought about calling Anna and canceling my part of the interview.  Then I thought…wait a minute…this is “our normal” so why not do the interview after all.  When Anna and her classmates arrived for the interview excited to meet Kim I gave them the news.  I felt like we had let them down.  However, it became a teachable moment.  I shared with them that she sometimes self medicates and that that was what probably happened.  I also shared that we actually live each day not knowing what’s to come.  With that we did the interview.  I wish Kim would have been there.  She did show up later that day and thankfully she was safe.

We tend to…we love.  We prompt…and we patiently wait and hold onto hope…