In June 2013, I was looking ahead to turning 70 in May of 2014. I wasn’t thrilled. I decided to fully experience this transition and to keep a diary of my milestone year.
I had three rules:
1) I’d write everyday.
2) I’d write organically — that is from the natural events of the day. No contrived drama.
3) I’d try to craft each entry into a small story with a beginning, middle, and an end.
So I began, and as I wrote, I had no idea I was capturing the last year of my son’s life. I completed my diary on June 15, 2014 and on July 23, 2014, my son died in a hospital psych ward. Suddenly, my diary morphed into a more poignant record than I’d anticipated.
With my daughter’s help, I set up a blog. In my experience as a mental illness advocate, mothers and women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s were the only ones fighting for their adult children with serious mental illness (SMI). I set up two sections on my blog (www.soonerthantomorrow. com — A Safe Place to Talk About Mental Illness in Our Families). In one section, I’d post my diary in two weeks segments for a year, to see if it resonated. In the second section, I’d post stories from other moms and SMI caregivers.
The resounding response to my diary convinced me to publish it. In April of this year, Sooner Than Tomorrow — A Mother’s Diary About Mental Illness, Family, And Everyday Life — began collecting all 5-star reviews on Amazon. Three-and-a-half years in, my blog is growing with 20,000 readers in over 85 countries. Serious mental illness is a global humanitarian crisis.
I’ve been a serious mental illness (SMI) advocate for over 25 years. SMI refers to the 10 million adults in our country who suffer from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, OCD, and other incapacitating anxiety disorders. SMI impacts individuals, their immediate and extended families, and their surrounding communities. At a minimum, those affected are 40 to 50 million people.
A few months ago, I grew frustrated with the fact that none of the 2020 presidential candidates was talking about SMI. A few mentioned mental health and the opioid crisis. How could they not be talking about a serious illness that cruelly disables so many? How could they ignore an issue that encompasses homelessness, incarceration, solitary confinement, suicide, preventable tragedies, the urgent need for beds and housing, outrageous HIPAA laws, and on and on?
I asked a question on Facebook.“Is anyone interested in developing a plan to give to 2020 presidential candidates to help them address SMI?” That question turned into a brainstorming session with over 80 mental illness advocates from across the country and the Virgin Islands. Through a series of Facebook posts, I quarterbacked our public discussion. We agreed, disagreed, and came to a consensus.
The end product is a Grassroots 5-Part SMI Plan that’s now been submitted to all the presidential candidates. We want to hear them talk about SMI in their campaigns, and post their SMI plans on their campaign websites. To receive a copy of the plan, send an email to email@example.com and I’ll email you the plan documents.
I was dreading my 70s, but I’ve begun to rethink them. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old
people are works of art.” Maybe my 70s will give me the chance to become a beautiful old person. A work of art. That remains to be seen. For now, a plethora of critical needs requires my on-going attention.