An Open Letter to Beatrice Francis Spade

kate spade

For those of you who may not know Beatrice Spade is the 13-year-old daughter of Kate Spade, fashion designer who recently passed away from complications from depression, anxiety and maybe bipolar. Kate Spade died by suicide.

Dear Beatrice,

Your mom created a brand, a brand known to all and utilized by many. She had success but that success came with a cost. She was afraid to admit her own imperfections because on the surface being imperfect might jeopardize her brand. Deep inside she struggled. And her demons overtook her. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to answer the question of Why people choose suicide. They choose the path to suicide because they are in tremendous pain and darkness from mental illnesses they did not choose to have. They choose suicide because it is easier than to live tormented by mental illness. Getting help is not an option in a society that discriminates against the mentally ill. They want to preserve their flawless image and never admit that something is defeating them inside, something like mental illness.

You are in a lot of pain now. Pain you can never come to understand at your age, yet it is a pain that has been thrust upon you, and in the public eye. When you are ready, make meaning out of your mother’s death. Become an advocate for those with mental illness. Learn all you can about mental health for your own sake and that of those you love. There is a powerful community of voices you can join in the mental health advocacy movement.

Again, suicide is not a weakness in character. It merely is an end to tremendous pain and feelings like getting help will get you labeled a failure by society. I once felt like this. I had bipolar disorder but I was this aspiring journalist working my way up through the ranks to a daily newspaper. The rat race almost killed me. Many people have said that if I stayed longer at my first newspaper job I might have been editor one day. But my illness’ symptoms flared up forcing me to quit that paper to hide another manic break. I never felt I could confide in my editor’s; I never felt I could trust them with what was going on with me. I ran to alcohol and that made things worse. I won’t go into detail about what happened next. I will say that with sobriety and with the right medications I eventually found my way to hope.

There is hope. New treatments and breakthroughs in science are happening everyday. More celebrities like Mariah Carey are coming out about their struggles with mental illness. There are organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Active Minds, This is My Brave and others that are working to end the discrimination around people with mental illness and change the conversation surrounding it.

Today, I read the suicide rate is on the rise in almost every state according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). There is something wrong with society that prevents people from getting help because of a fear of being seen as a failure, a weak. The people who get treatment are strong and successful. It takes a long time to find the right treatments or it can take a short time. Every person is different.

If you or anyone you know feels suicidal, help is out there. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or visit them on the web at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

You are not alone. Someone else has already been there before you. Help is out there.

Review of This is My Brave Boston

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Photo pictures: Founder and executive director of This is My Brave Jennifer Marshall on right with her coworker Lauren

 

 

Last night, I attended a magical show. Magic, because people combatted societal stigma to open up about struggles many of us consider taboo. Brave people. Human.

I attended the This is My Brave show in Boston on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hills, MA. I met Jennifer Marshall, the executive director of the organization. This endeavor began first with Jenn’s bravery in writing her blog bipolarmomlife located now at http://jennifermarshall.me. This is My Brave is a non-profit organization which provides a community and platform for people living with mental illness to speak out and end the stigma associated with these disorders. Through storytelling, community programs and social media, they hope to change the conversation on mental illness. Since 2014, they have performed 42 shows in the United States and even one in Austrailia. Each show has a regional cast and crew as they are performed in different areas of the country.

The show opened with two young women singing with a guitar a rendition of Sara Bareilles and Jack Antonoff’s Brave. Through personal essays performed like TED talks, poetry, music and dance, each cast member portrayed a different aspect of their struggle with mental illness. Kasey Elliot Maher talked about using mental illness as a superpower by letting go of the notion that the illness controls her. Nneka Hall spoke poignantly about her still born daughter and coming to terms with it. Melissa Brown compared her mental illness ,OCD, to painting a masterpiece. Sandi Hammond spoke about getting diagnosed bipolar in later life. Jason Wright told us how writing poetry was important in his recovery from schizoaffective disorder. Hana Kahn concluded with a song about her wellness. Other cast members included: Christie Pearl, Zach Orlov, Suzanne Garverich, Robin Owens, Sarah Benesi, Aubrey and Evan Grubb, Jamie Davenport and Marty Levin.

Through the use of the personal story, each cast member shared a different aspect of mental illness or living with stigma.

I urge you to follow This is My Brave on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and on their web site www.thisismybrave.org. You can find a video of the Boston 2018 show on YouTube as well as many other shows in other areas. On the web site is a shop for buying Brave Gear t-shirts and other great items to support This is My Brave’s mission. Please consider becoming a Brave Champion with a $10 a month donation to help a worthy cause. Other donations are appreciated too and will help more shows get produced.

 

#livebrave #storytellingsaveslives #thisismybrave

“I don’t know” An answer to a question or a conversation stopper

It was 1980-something, I was 12-years-old. We live in Simsbury, Connecticut—a very heterosexual, WASPY town in New England. My parents always told me to never tell your religion to anybody, not even to talk about the subject of religion.

It is Sunday and I am in Granby, the next town over, at a friend’s house. I don’t know this friend well. We are playing with dolls and then her mom tells us it is time for them to go to church. I am supposed to go with them since they are responsible for me for the day. We pile in the car with her brother and sister and on the way we go. I have never been to a church. Her mom makes conversation with the kids in the back seat. “Do you go to church?” she asks me. “I answer “No.” I remember what my parents taught me. “What religion are you?” she asked innocently. Just then, I saw Nazis marching my family to the death camp, hysterical laughing German soldiers shooting the people I loved in the face in my head all for answering this woman in the affirmative. So, I said, “I don’t know.” Good old, I don’t know. The answer you say when you want to hide who you are and not make an issue of it. The best answer off of someone’s anti-Semetic crack pipe. I don’t know. It would never open minds and hearts, it would never help the world embrace all the diverse religions and races and ethnicities. I said, “I don’t know.” “How do you not know your religion,” she asked quizzically. “I just don’t,” I said. And, at that, the conversation led someplace else. I breathed a sigh of relief. I dodged another one. But did I dodge it well? I missed an opportunity to educate and open minds, take people out of their comfort zones.

I am in high school in the mid-nineties. I attended an alternative private day school a few towns over in Hartford. We are in gym class, hanging all over the weight lifting equipment. Lisa, a girl a year older than me, starts asking kids what their sexual orientation is. All are answering her straight. When she comes to me, I am not sure how to answer. I really don’t understand her question. Whatever I said would permanently label me throughout my school years and perhaps my life. I quickly searched my mental file for some answer. I shrugged at her and said, “I don’t know.” I expected her to laugh at me and ridicule me. But all she said was “That’s okay, you have plenty of time to find out.” I let out a sigh of relief. But from that moment on it brought out the question why is sexuality so important to people. It forced me to research different sexual orientations and realize the prejudice there is out there on the GLBT community. Looking back on that gym class afternoon, I realized that many of the students whom she asked could have answered one way because they were hiding who they really were. While I experimented with both sexes in high school and college, today I am happily heterosexual.

I bring up these examples because as a mental health advocate I am forced every day on whether to hide who I am with people or to use conversations as teachable moments. When I tell people what I do, that I am a writer of a blog on mental health issues and a mental health advocate, it always scares me because the stigma is greater. But a few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that the phrase “I don’t know” no longer applies to me. My battle with mental illness has shaped who I am as does my rich Jewish heritage and my early experimentation of my sexuality has allowed me to accept the diversity of all people. To me, erasing stigma is about changing how we have conversations with people and opening the door for teachable moments. My business cards have my blog’s logo on it and from now on I will talk about my past proudly because I can change minds.

How Stigma Kills

People ask me why I want to write a column like this. But aren’t you embarrassed of your own story they say. My reply is always No. My story, based in the past, is merely a grounding point, a place to start, a place to show you I have experience with the issues so you can trust me better. In future columns, I’ll be seeking out others to write their stories and even doing some political/advocacy writing. I just haven’t gotton to all the possibilitiies yet. I have to slow down and write each column at a time. Back to story for a moment, the personal story can have power too. Jenn Marshall’s This is My Brave, Inc. uses storytelling and performance to change minds about mental illness. Jenn is bipolar and writes a blog about it at http://www.bipolarmomlife.com. I ask you to go to Youtube and type in This is My Brave for a list of performances of stories they’ve done.

My point is that mental illness is only embarrassing if we let it be. Mental illness is something that happened to us, only a part of us. Used skillfully and as a tool, our stories can educate people to know they are not alone. They serve to show legislators that people with these issues are real and strong and need services not stigma. I only wish our brave veterans would share more about what they go through on the inside so the rest of the country they fought for can really, truly have their back.

In the same way that the GLBT community had to come out in order to raise awareness about who they are and their issues, the community of those with mental illness must do the same. However, we must do it in the most respectful way unlike the pride parades of the GLBT community. We must start blogs, testify in front of legislators, join organizations like This is My Brave and NAMI and share our stories with schools and colleges, tell our stories to law enforcement in order to change the way police treat the mentally ill.

And yes, our stories, parts of them that is, are embarrassing. But we can heal ourselves and just make the embarrassing parts part of what happened. We don’t have to fear the darkness. Chances are someone out there experienced the same thing and lives in the darkness every day.