I was reading an editorial by Mary Gilbert, the Executive Director of NAMI national, and she was discussing the colors of the NAMI logo. The color blue -representing the long struggle people who live with mental illness have; and the color green – representing the hope of recovery.
When we talk about struggle I reflect back on my own journey with mental illness. I have often called bipolar disorder my biggest competitor. It has caused me a tremendous amount of emotional pain in long periods of depression. Equally challenging has been my bouts with mania that have rendered me incapacitated during those episodes.
I am also reminded in Ms. Gilbert’s article that even though some people do recover, many people never get that chance.
Even though I have been fortunate to learn how to manage my illness, it has set me back in life in many ways. It affected me professionally and ended an otherwise successful career in business. The weight gain from medications stole away at my confidence and self-esteem. And the mere idea of living with a disability forced me to face my limitations in ways I never expected.
But in spite of all these personal struggles I still believe in the hope of recovery. While I am not capable of sustaining a high level position in Corporate America, I celebrate that I am capable of teaching Mental Health First Aid to a group of college students and others.
Every step I take to strive for living as a Mental Health Advocate, it gives me strength to know I can help others who may be less fortunate than myself. I am thrilled at the possibility of changing someone’s course if they are encouraged to seek help, before the mental health condition gets to Stage 4.
The fact that struggle and hope can exists together is a broader concept of the human condition. Those of us who live with a mental illness know first hand how incredibly challenging a life can become when hit with a mental disorder. And I believe that anyone who has survived their mental illness and have fought for recovery understands just how much hope means.
Without hope there is nothing but darkness. Yet there are times when I have felt hopeless. Times when I wanted to give up. Days when I ask God, “Why did this happen to me?” But in the midst of my struggles I made a conscious decision not to give up.
I was describing how difficult it was for me to recover to a friend who is also a counselor, she struck a chord by telling me, “If it was so difficult for you, the former Olympic Athlete, can you imagine how difficult it is for others who are far less fortunate than you?l
I stepped back from that conversation and found myself thinking about how many resources, friends, family and even just access to treatment, I have been blessed to have. The truth is I needed every tool and skill and experience that I had acquired in life to make it. Without even one small part, I could not have recovered. The mountain was quite frankly too difficult to climb without all the supports.
So for the people who are struggling I can tell you that I understand how difficult it is. For the family members with loved ones who are having a difficult time, I offer compassion. And for those who are trying to fight to recover I can’t say enough how important finding hope is.
Sometimes hope is all we have in the battle against mental illness.