Five years ago, during a “lull” in our long battle with my loved one’s mental illness, I discovered the Walk for Hope – an event I was vaguely aware of but had not considered participating in. This seemed to be a chance to step out of my silence and do something publicly, even if small, for the first time. I reached out to my community of friends and family and asked if anyone wanted to join me – and by walk day I had 20+ people walking alongside of me with our glitter-covered headbands. I really thought we were walking for my loved one, and while we were, I quickly realized we were also walking for them, their children, their parent, cousin, sibling, spouse or friend. My community all were touched by mental illness. And we just didn’t ever talk about it.
It was then I took a deeper look at my entire family – myself, my siblings, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws. I realized I had been impacted by mental illness ever since the day I was born. We were riddled with mental health disorders in the same way some families struggle with heart disease or diabetes. Addiction, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, self-harming – the list goes on. While not always diagnosed, the signs and patterns are there, the devastating impact was evident and we cannot deny that our family had long been suffering.
As I walked along with my band of 20, surrounded by thousands of others walking for their own reasons, I realized for the first time how very not alone we were in our fight. I also realized that I had to do more: more to stop the stigma, more to raise awareness and funding, more to show that mental illness was not a dirty secret to hide. I had a responsibility to be an example and show that regardless of access to the best care, a loving family environment, education and resources, mental illness does not discriminate.
Over the next five years, my loved one has continued her battle with her mental health disorders. Some days, weeks and months are better than others. But like with any illness, at times she has slipped out of remission and has had to deal with medication failure, hospitalization, long-term treatment. She has had to face rebuilding a life, starting over with work and relationships and once again find hope. Team Glitter has grown during these five years. We have included over 80 different people on our team, always covered in glitter, always honoring someone’s struggle. We get stronger in building our community, helping to raise funds, eradicating stigma, bravely sharing our own experiences.
Since the first steps with my glitter clad band during the 2015 Walk for Hope, I have walked out of my silence. We as a family have been more honest in sharing our experience in hopes to help others who share in this difficult journey. I have focused my volunteer efforts to raise awareness, funds, educate and advocate for those impacted by mental illness. I have changed careers to work in the behavioral health field. I walk because I want to help others walk out of their silence. To find their team. To increase awareness. To raise more money for more research so we see more remission. I believe that many more people can, like my loved one, live well with mental illness. So I continue to Walk for Hope.