My first exposure to mental illness came in 1984. I was 19 years old just finishing my freshman year of college at the University of Tennessee where I was playing college basketball. My mother had a major episode as a result of her Bipolar Disorder. The doctor quickly threw around all these words like “psychotic episode,” “manic-depressive illness,” and “involuntary commitment.” There was no such thing as the internet so I went to a public library and painstakingly looked up every word from my notes I had taken. I remember feeling terrified and devastated by the entire situation. There was no where readily to turn for information let alone support.
Since that time I became an advocate for my mother as she struggled off and on with Bipolar episodes. I was there for her along with a few other family members during her tough times. I stood up for her as she worked her way back to good health. Years later when I suffered my first episode my mother returned the favor and supported me through my struggles.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to stand beside someone who lives with mental illness. Sure it was easy to stand up for me the Olympic Athlete but how difficult is it to stand up for me a person who has Bipolar? I did feel deserted by some friends and family members, but I realized how strong you have to be to support someone with a mental illness. It’s not easy or I suppose everyone would do it. Fortunately, I have a strong family support system. They haven’t been perfect but they’ve been darn good through the good times and the bad times.
It’s easy to stand up for people when things are going well. But when tough times come around it is so important to have support. Standing up for mental illness to me means doing any number of little things to support this cause. To challenge the status quo and ask people to take action and make a difference in someone’s life.
Because people were willing to stand up for me I am in recovery and because of that I can stand up for those who have a mental illness. Hopefully I’ll make a difference one day at a time.