BringChange2Mind

June 27, 2010

BringChange2Mind in Seattle, by Cinda Johnson

We were two moms and two adult children chatting at the dining room table after a Seattle dinner of salmon on the grill and salad. We had met each other in person less than three months before yet we were bonded as close as family. Calen and Linea talked about their experiences hospitalized because of psychiatric illnesses. They talked about their “breaks” (these weren’t school breaks!) and how it affected their relationships with their friends. Jessie and I talked about the pain, love and profound respect we experienced as we traveled with our children through their illnesses. Jessie and Linea talked about when suicide was stalking them and how they stayed healthy and stable. We talked about my brother and the others who were no longer with us. Calen connected with Linea as they discussed how sharing their stories and voices as advocates for mental health treatment and understanding had strengthened them. It was just an ordinary evening, yet profound in our shared heartache, heartbreak, recovery and thankfulness.

Linea Johnson, Cinda Johnson, Jessie Close, and Calen Pick

Calen Pick and Jessie Close were in town to present at Seattle University’s College of Education celebration of the 75th year of educating teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, community mental health counselors, principals, superintendents and leaders in higher education. There were a few questions around campus about the connection between “celebration” and “mental illness”. Calen and Jessie spoke of their own battles with mental illness and their slow road to recovery. They shared their commitment to the very mission of Seattle University, “…empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” Yes, there were a few in the audience who looked uncomfortable as Calen described his hallucinations and Jessie her battle with alcohol in addition to her bipolar disorder. But the vast majority applauded the courage and willingness to put a face to frightening illnesses; two beautiful, wise, and “normal” (whatever that is) faces to which the audience could relate.

Mental illnesses are insidious and terrifying but also treatable, manageable and even offer opportunities to connect to others with honesty and love in ways we may have previously not been able to do. Although both Jessie and Calen and Linea and I speak to large audiences sharing our stories in order to assure understanding, resources and care for the millions of people with a mental health condition, it is the personal connections that strengthen this movement. Linea and Calen are examples of the power of young people stepping forward and changing the face and understanding of mental illness yet they are two young people in their twenties who love books and walking and music and art and deep philosophical discussions. Jessie bravely shares her own experiences struggling with bipolar disorder. Yet she and I also connect at a deep and lasting level of “mom”; mothers who will do anything possible to keep their children safe and wish with every fiber of their being for their happiness and safety.

Seattle University's 75th Anniversary Celebration

BringChange2Mind is a powerful movement with almost 13,000 Facebook fans and emails and requests for help coming in every day and from all over the nation. Requests that are responded to within 36 hours! This movement is taking hold and taking off. The conversations on Facebook are powerful, the walks across the country with our NAMI partners were life-changing for many, and the support and understanding developing within this community is awe-inspiring. Together we are an influential and significant grass-roots movement started by Glenn Close. Yes, a famous actress but also a sister who is connected to every family with a mental illness because she knows. Just like the connection around the dining room table, into the community and across the country. This BringChange2Mind community gets it. Together we can change the face of these illnesses and together we can be the leaders needed for a just and humane world for all people, particularly for those with mental illnesses.

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May 20, 2010

What NAMI Walks Mean to Robin, by Robin Walker

I feel like the majority of my motherhood career has been like pushing sand against waves from the ocean, always leaving my spirit feeling washed up and wiped out. I have put in countless years trying to swoop my son under my wing to protect him from himself, his illness and the residual effects it has had on his life, it has been isolating. Many a night I collapsed in my bed with the feelings of defeat and many a morning I felt as if the very thought of getting out of bed was going to break me. It took that brokenness in me to surrender.

I attended Al-Anon for numerous years and worked the 12 steps of the program. I admitted I was powerless over alcohol – that my life had become unmanageable. I came to believe that a Power greater than myself could restore me to sanity and I sought through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God, praying only for His knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out. I surrendered. I experienced two alcoholics and their disease in my life, I was broken and then I surrendered.

One would think that if I could grasp the concept and understanding of AA’s 12 steps as a teenager and young adult that I could apply that to anything in my life as I matured, but somehow I lost that understanding, I lost me. I was so busy taking care of my son. I wanted to give him everything I craved as a child; acceptance, unconditional love, a sense of pride. I started at conception, talking to him inside me throughout my pregnancy. Then when he was born I would tell him daily how special and wanted he was. I have never loved anyone more than Korbin and I know never will.

So when mental illness struck I didn’t understand. I couldn’t grasp how “he didn’t feel like anyone would miss him if he wasn’t here tomorrow”. I couldn’t wrap my head around it! I told him, and showed him, how loved he was. I made that my priority in my mothering. When we hit “rock bottom” three and a half years ago it felt like another defeat and I broke….again. Korbin was going to be okay, he would continue to get treatment and gain coping skills, but this didn’t fix my brokenness. I had to claw my way up and out of the pit I was in. I needed to relearn my steps to recover and even then I didn’t feel complete.

My sense of feeling complete came on the weekend of May 8th, 2010, at the Portland, Maine NAMI walk. I had been busy with my volunteering for BC2M and advocating to end the stigma of mental illness. I was coordinating the BC2M walking teams across the USA and I felt good, empowered, and proud to be a part of such a revolutionary campaign. On May 8th I lead one of our BC2M walking teams in Portland Maine and fully grasped what I was a part of. It was the first time in 12 years that I didn’t feel isolated, it was a day I will never forget. There I was with my son in our BC2M t-shirts not feeling shame because of the illness. We were surrounded by people just like us, we were surrounded by our good friends and family. I saw BC2M shirts on others, some with diagnoses. It was so powerful to watch and experience that live. I listened to Jessie and Calen speak and there were tears in my eyes as I watched them….I felt “normal” for the first time since being a mom, I was hearing the same things I was feeling.

The next day at my sister’s house for dinner, on Mother’s Day, I let the last cat out of the bag. We shared with the last of the family, and even in-laws, about our “secret”. It was freeing and I was finally at peace about mental illness in my family. I feel like the NAMI walk weekend was my first pure and authentic step into advocacy, I was an open book, I surrendered and trusted and now I was not only talking the talk but walking the walk, literally and spiritually. I was doing good works with my advocacy before for sure, but to be transparent….that changes it. I am stronger, wiser and free!

I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of the NAMI walks and to coordinate them. I have met some great advocates and feel blessed by that. I feel blessed by the BC2M community, for because of them I am sharing this joy. To have actually experienced my own walk was life changing and rates in my top three greatest experiences of my life. I encourage everyone to join a BC2M team to feel that sense of oneness. It is refreshing and it has made my soul well.

Robin (bottom center), Korbin (bottom left) and some of the BringChange2Mind family

(Robin Walker is one of our beloved volunteers who has been working night and day to bring BC2M NAMI Walk teams to your city. To find a walk near you please visit our BC2M NAMI Walk site. Here you can join teams in your area, learn how to start your own, or donate! We thank you Robin with all of our hearts!)

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