My family and I currently live in the St. Louis area, but that is far from where I was born. I was born in Washington state. I grew up living in different areas of Washington, Idaho and Big Sky Montana. I relish in memories of statuesque snow topped mountains and fresh mountain air. There was something special about that mountain air. To this day it lingers among my memories of the Northwest. I recall that my childhood was laced with the sweet scent of pine. The syrupy, pine scent, as if it were perfume, mingled with my childhood shadow and would gracefully follow me throughout my youth. Every once in awhile, when I return to the Northwest, I find that I experience a sense of tranquility when I breathe in the cool, mountain air. There is nothing quite like it.
One of my fondest memories, in addition to the fresh mountain air, comes from a time when I was ten. Outfitted in a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, orange plaid pants and a green kerchief around my shirt collar I showed a one year old horse named Pepsi at the Kalispell, Montana County Fair. With my heart pounding and Pepsi’s hooves beating the soft dirt as she pranced the show grounds Pepsi and I proudly took third place among the contestants. I felt satisfied with third place, especially since Pepsi happened to be overly skittish when it came time to show our stuff during the 4-H halter competition.
I distinctly remember, during the halter show, standing in the arena with Pepsi on my right and the watchful eyes of the rodeo crowd staring at us, including my beloved family. I stood tall, but my 10 year old knees were trembling…after-all…this happened to be my first rodeo show. It was Pepsi’s first too. Pepsi must have been nervous because she decided to rear up. Somehow…my small, 5th grade body was strong enough to get her under control but not without some dirt first being kicked up from her yearling hooves. As she reared…the horse lead yanked at my arm. I calmly, yet sternly, pulled her close to my side. She tried to rear her head again. Her mane danced in the rodeo air. She pranced side to side and snorted. Her size and weight didn’t seem to phase me. I used easy commands that I had been taught, and I let her know that I was in charge. Once I had control of her I acted as if nothing happened. Her thunderous break from the halter show routine wasn’t going to stop me from completing my part of the show. Pepsi and I even went on to compete in the costume show.
Later that evening, after a long day of competing, my Mom and Aunty Pat shared with me that one of the reasons I won a ribbon my first time around was because I was able to get control of Pepsi, calm her down and I finished the show. I actually remember very well the rodeo crowd cheering as I got a nervous, young horse quickly back at my side. The white ribbon that Pepsi and I proudly won has been lost over the years, but the memory of that day remains. Now, in my forties, I stand in the arena of mental illness with my heart pounding as I dare myself to step outside of the box and tell my story in an effort to raise awareness and erase the stigma. The trophy is not a ribbon; it is awareness, acceptance and support.
So how did that little girl from the Northwest grow into a woman that has become passionate about raising awareness and erasing the stigma of mental illness? Well…she has a dear loved one with a mental illness: one of her beautiful daughter’s in fact. As she began to weary, as the disease unfolded and took hold of her daughter and family, she remembered where she came from. She remembered that she is strong. She found renewed energy and in turn has faced the disease just like she faced the rodeo crowd back in the day with a feisty yearling at her side, and she does what comes naturally…she writes. She writes in an effort to reclaim her sense of self, to encourage, uplift and support her daughter and to help others. Then she connects with others who are just as passionate about mental health advocacy. Who does she connect with? Well…as of lately…she connects with the East Coast, in particular New York publisher and founder Robin Graham of Spotlight on Recovery Magazine.
I am honored and proud to say that I have an article titled, “Sister, Can We Talk? When Mental Illness Strikes a Loved One” that was just published in Spotlight on Recovery’s June, 2012 issue. I am honored and proud, not because of my article, but because of the mission of Ms. Robin Graham. She gives a voice to those who have been there, and she instills hope one story at a time. She actually has been instilling hope since the devastation of 9-11. Chynna Laird, contributing writer for Spotlight on Recovery Magazine, has written a wonderful biography about Ms. Robin Graham. To learn more about her story click here: http://www.lilywolfwords.ca/s_26.asp. I feel so grateful to have aligned with such an inspiring soul. You can learn more about Ms. Robin Graham and Spotlight on Recovery Magazine including subscription and advertising rates by visiting spotlightonrecovery.com. The website is temporarily under construction, but check back often! It will be up and running soon. Spotlight on Recovery Magazine also has a video on YouTube. And you can also follow SOR magazine on twitter www.twitter.com/SORmagazine. Thank you Ms. Robin Graham for an amazing, inspirational magazine and for instilling a sense of hope during challenging times.