Back in February, I was contacted by the marketing department at the Lindner Center of Hope asking me if I would be willing to speak at an upcoming fundraising luncheon in Kenwood. I hesitantly agreed, not knowing exactly what all the job entailed and not realizing what an important function this was.
I have been a patient for over two years now at LCOH. I have been in outpatient, inpatient and residential treatment over the course of those two years. I’ve gotten to know many people throughout that time as people have come and go along the way as part of my treatment team.
I have experienced much healing in my time at LCOH. Healing that I hadn’t seen the magnitude of. In recent months my desire has been to advocate for mental health awareness. In recent weeks I have sat around tables with women planning fundraisers for the National Eating Disorders Association. We are currently planning the 2013 Greater Cincinnati 5k race. I’ve also been volunteering as a mentor and counselor to eating disordered patients who are looking for support and encouragement to enter professional treatment.
But, on April 9th, I finally realized the depth of my healing and just how much my heart desired to stand up for a cause so dear to my heart. I stood at the Kenwood Country Club in front of almost 300 women (including Frances Lindner and the CEO of LCOH) at a podium with my voice trembling. I began to speak. I spoke of my battles and struggles with mental illness and how it had affected my life. I talked about my eating disorder, my struggles with anxiety and depression, my hospitalizations, addiction, and my experiences at LCOH.
As I spoke, I saw the faces of women who were touched by what I was saying. Many of them, having never admitted to the struggles of mental illness in their lives, had tears running down their faces. I saw heads nod as I spoke of how difficult the stigma of this illness. When I was finished speaking, much to my amazement, I was unexpectedly given a standing ovation. I didn’t know what to do with that. All I had done was share my story to a group of women. But, I later learned that to many of them, it was so much more than that. I learned that using my voice to share my story had comforted them and empowered them. Many were so glad to hear that someone understood.
I still hadn’t realized the magnitude of what talking about my life had done until a woman in her 30s came up to me. Tears in her eyes, she didn’t introduce herself. She muttered a few words of thanks and told me that my story was what she needed and that she would be contacting someone about treatment. And with that, she walked away. I don’t know her name or her struggles. I don’t know what goes through her mind when she goes to sleep at night. But what I do know is that she just needed to hear that she wasn’t alone.
That is all I want to do. I want people to know that it’s ok, that they are not alone, and that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of. In one speaking engagement, I felt the calling of my life, the desires of my heart, come true. I had helped her. That is all I have ever wanted to do- help someone else.
That very moment made it all worth it. It made the struggles I have faced, the many nights of tears and fear, the loneliness and pain all worth it. My struggles were not in vain.
The last few years have been very difficult. Treatment has been hard. I’ve spent over 100 days hospitalized and away from my family. I’ve seen them suffer equally if not more than me as they sat helplessly by, hoping that I would find hope in life. I’ve struggled through the vicious cycles of medication management and adjustment. I’ve experienced feelings, fears and events that I hope to never in my life experience again.
Two years ago, I found a card in my mailbox. A dear friend had sent it to me telling me that one day, my struggles would be used for good and to reach others. The card was meant to encourage me to keep fighting and to hang on. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t ever see the day that any of the mess I was in would come to be used for any good. I actually remember the very day that I received the card was a day that I could barely pull myself out of bed and muster the strength to feed my children. I could barely even pull my eyes open and here this friend of mine was telling me that all of this would one day be used for a greater purpose.
Honestly, I didn’t believe her.
But now, I realize how right she was. I realize that so many people have seen from the outside what I was not able to see. I have been rallied around, supported and given encouragement from so many. I have made it. I am here.
I’ve wanted for so long to not just be alive, but to live. I’ve wanted to come to a point where I could share my experiences to help others. I have wanted to bring awareness to the truth about mental illnesses. Most of all, I have desired that just one person could hear my story and be changed. One person.
I have been given the desires of my heart.