It was seven years ago to this date when I lost my dad to suicide. When I founded DLR almost two years ago, I knew I wanted to not only delight dogs and humans who love them, I wanted to use the platform as a way of shedding light on topics I feel passionate about – issues that have touched my life. Erasing the stigma of mental illness is one of these topics.
For almost 30 years I watched the father who once was so vibrant, life-loving and happy get slowly swallowed up by this disease. Depression and anxiety is a disease, it’s not something one can just decide to fix by “snapping out of it.” It’s as real as cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
Thirty years ago, the views on mental illness by society were not as progressive as today – though we still have a long way to go. At that time, it might have been called a “breakdown” – something that conjured up a padded room and a straight jacket. The person may have been called “crazy.” It was definitely something that needed to be kept private – especially when the person suffering is a junior high school counselor.
I was a young adult when my dad was diagnosed. The instigator seemed to be empty nest syndrome. Once we kids started our own lives, my dad felt lost. I would come home to spend time with my dad and a small victory would be to get him out of bed to go for a walk. Eventually he found an effective level of medication that allowed him to get his life back for many, many years. When grandkids started entering the picture, it seemed to give his life purpose. He was a kid that never grew up in many ways, so the kids just loved when “Boppa” was around. There continued to be dark days too though, and the grandkids didn’t understand why Boppa didn’t make it to their birthday celebration or baseball game. Talking with young kids about the effects of mental illness is tricky, but necessary. Trying to relay in simple terms that they can digest – this in its own way can start to chip away at the stigma.
A few years before he died, my parents were divorced. The culmination of events surrounding this divorce led to an added layer of mental illness for my dad – anxiety. Anxiety is a completely different animal. It’s acute and it can inflict physical pain like I’ve never seen. I watched many episodes of anxiety cause my dad to writhe in pain – it was horrific. When he no longer wanted to be in this world of pain, guilt, self-loathing and darkness, I understood.
I not only was an observer of what mental illness can do, I have experienced depression myself – in my case, it was situational. I was able to work through the root of my feelings with a therapist, find the right medication and ultimately was able to change the situation that brought these feelings on – all which brought me to a more stable emotional and psychological state. With this awareness and medication, I’m fortunate enough to be living now without severe symptoms. I am aware that having a genetic disposition is something to keep at the forefront of my mind, and to be vigilant, especially when there are more turbulent times in my life.
Since my dad died and I’ve started sharing my story, every time, without fail, the person I’m sharing it with also has a story about how mental illness has affected their life. We need to keep this dialogue open. If you know someone who is struggling – ask how they are, ask what you can do. We need to continue to bring the topic of mental illness out of the dark and into the light.
If you know you’re not ok, it’s ok to say so. There is help. One of the wonderful organizations that can help is National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
It seems a fitting day to announce we will donate 50% of net proceeds from today’s sales to NAMI. Get your dog outfitted for spring and do good!
We would love to hear your personal stories about how mental illness has touched your lives. Feel free to comment below or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristin, Trixie + Ziggy