As I write this column, we’re days away from knowing who will be the next mayor of Chicago, and the aldermen for the 29th and 37th wards. For the first time in years, maybe ever, Austin Weekly News and Austin Talks co-hosted candidate forums for the aldermanic races that affect the communities we serve. The forums, both quite different from one another, were fascinating. Only time will tell the outcomes, but when this column publishes, we should have our answers. And we should be full of hope.
Two days ago, waiting for the 29th ward candidate forum to start, I had the pleasure of meeting Nona. When Nona walked into Austin Town Hall, she looked at me and did a double take. She said, ‘It’s you.’ She told me she had read about the loss of my sister Sandy and that she was very sorry.
The story had touched her heart. She said she thought it must have been very difficult for me to write and wanted to know why I had written it. I told her, although it’s still hard for me to talk about, I remain committed to telling the story of my sister’s mental illness and how it affected our family. That so many families experience it, yet don’t talk about it because we feel ashamed. Nona hugged me, she hugged my son Paxton and we all cried tears for my sister.
Today also marks the day I learned my sister’s story was recognized by the Illinois Press Association. It is bitter-sweet recognition—I’d give up any recognition to have my sister back, to have another chance at a relationship with Sandy. Wishing I had known all my life what I now know about Sandy’s illness. Sandy’s struggles. Perhaps how I could have helped Sandy, or at least understood her better. Wishing I could have given her hope.
Tonight I’m writing in a hotel room in Indianapolis – the halfway point between Chicago and Lexington. Paxton and I are again making the trip to check on my parents, my very ill dad, us needing a break. I had a lot of time to think during the car ride and giving up hope was heavy on my mind. Knowing I’d be too tired to make the seven hour drive with a late after-work start time, I purposely reserved a room at Red Roof Inn. Sandy died at a La Quinta. Sure enough, tonight our hotel faces a La Quinta. Always a reminder, a connection, to giving up hope.
Giving up Hope is the name of Sandy’s story, the name of the book I intend to write. Your support and response to the first three columns about Sandy has been heart-warming. So many of you have shared your own stories of how mental illness has affected your families. Meeting Nona and hearing her comments inspired me to push forward with the rest of Sandy’s story. Thank you Nona. I have a lot more to tell you. So in the coming year, you will be hearing more. It won’t always be pleasant, but it will be honest. And I hope you’ll continue to respond by sharing your personal stories. Because we need to be free to talk about mental illness as if it were a common cold. Because it is just as common as a cold.
I invite you to continue this dialogue tonight, April 8th, 7pm, at Riveredge Hospital in Forest Park as they host a Town Hall with Senator Kimberly Lightford on ending the stigma of mental illness. Topics will include: What are the signs of mental illness? How can I get help for a loved one? Why do I feel so ashamed? Where can I go for help? For more information, log onto austinweeklynews.com.
Read the complete story:
Aug. 5, 2014: Ending the pain of mental illness and addiction
Sept. 2, 2014: This is not how the story ends
Sept. 22, 2014: Are prostitutes a priority? What if she were your sister?