I walk for a lot of reasons and a lot of people, but most of all, I walk for my mom. She has suffered for most of my life. I would literally give anything to be able to find a cure for her and others who suffer like she does.

My mom suffers from depression and paranoid schizophrenia. It’s easy to think about the impact it has had on me and on my brother and on others in our family, but I often think, most of all, about the way that my mom suffers every day, often in silence—and she is often so sick that an expectation that she will find help on her own does not exist.

I’m told that she struggled a lot with depression after her own brother committed suicide in 1977, the same year that my brother was born. She continued suffering after I was born in 1979 and then never seemed to make it all the way out of that darkness. My mom struggled with that depression when I was very young and then eventually she left town when I was about 11 years old—right after she lost custody of my brother and me several years after her divorce. She moved from state to state and my brother and I visited with her a time or two initially, but eventually the visits stopped and phone calls from her slowed down until those stopped, too.

She was running. Running from fears. Running from what the voices inside her head were telling her to run from.

One morning during my senior year in high school, after my mom had been gone for years, I saw a woman with a blue blanket and a white bag resting in a bus stop right off of Franklin Street in Chapel Hill as I drove to school. She looked nothing like my mom. My mom had dark brown hair. This woman had white long stringy hair. This woman was very thin and frail. My mom was not. It was the woman’s eyes that made me think of my mom.

I continued to drive to school, thinking that I myself was losing my own mind. I had no reason to believe that, after years of roaming the country, my mom would now be homeless in my very own town—and especially that she would not have contacted me. I was afraid that I was now, like her, imagining things that weren’t real.

A few days passed before I did get a call from my mom. She said she was in town and asked if I would meet her downtown for a bite to eat. She did not acknowledge that she had been gone or that I had not seen or talked to her in years. She did not explain a thing or act like anything was wrong. She acted like no time had passed since our last conversation.

I met her. She was the woman in the bus stop.

She ended up remaining homeless, against all efforts to get her help, until I was in college. She eventually got arrested for trespassing, committed to a mental hospital involuntarily in Virginia and treated there for almost two years. She was discharged to a transition program in Charlotte and has remained there since the late ’90s.

When I hear friends talk about the amazing relationship they have or had with their mom, I yearn so much to experience what that is like. I love my mom so much and I yearn to know who she is underneath the illness—who would she have been? What kind of mother would she have been?

I feel especially lucky to be part of the Walk for Hope every year because I feel like, without foundations like this, we will not find the cures for illnesses like my mom’s. And I know the cures are out there. I feel like the recent advances we are making in learning the importance of topics like gut health bring us closer to finding the causes and cures.

My heartfelt THANK YOU goes out to the Foundation for all that they do—for being a bigger and more powerful voice than I could ever be on my own. For helping advocate and raise awareness about mental illness. What you do is important to SO many people in so many ways and THAT is why I walk and have continued to participate in the Walk for Hope for many, many years now

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