This is going to be a long, rambling post. I apologize in advance, and I hope you'll bear with me. This is incredibly important to me, but my thoughts are numerous and jumbled. I'm going to try to sort them all out.
Once upon a time, about a decade ago, I dated a boy at Virginia Tech for about four years. Every other weekend, I drove the two-and-a-half hours to go visit him, and we would go to football games, frat parties (or other parties - wherever there was beer), or just for walks around campus. Once or twice I came up a day early and went to lectures with him. We would catch the BT (Blacksburg Transit - basically a bus) and ride it around to various parts of the school. I distinctly remember waiting for what seemed like an hour late one night in front of a building that faced the drill field. We'd come from a party, and although it was so late that it was early, I felt completely safe.
It was a beautiful campus, but my favorite time of year there was fall. Blacksburg is in the mountains, and when the leaves are changing, it's just stunning. My ex and I got engaged, and I passively began planning a wedding. We talked briefly about getting married at Virginia Tech, at the chapel that's located at the end of the drill field there. It was fun to entertain that notion and daydream about getting married in the fall with the bright leaves all around. But he and I fell apart, and that was that. I tried not to think about Virginia Tech and its beautiful campus much anymore, the happy memories there were best encapsulated and left to be revisited when I felt strong enough.
Then on April 16, 2007, I had no choice. I was lying down on the couch with a headache when the news broke that there had been a mass shooting at Virginia Tech. It was mass chaos, nobody knew what was going on and the news was grasping at different tidbits of information, reporting the wrong thing. But the imagery...there was this place that I'd spent so very many happy days washed in blood. There were EMS dragging a girl by the hands and feet across the very field where I had hoped to marry my childhood sweetheart. And there were SWAT police, with huge rifles drawn, pointing at the very spot where I had stood with my fiance and his roommates late one night while we waited for the BT to pick us up and take us home.
I can't explain how that made me feel. I can't even fathom how the people on campus must have felt, and I don't want to. And how people who actually went to Tech must feel about it - I can't begin to imagine.
Then came the information that Seung-Hui Cho was mentally ill. Not only that he was mentally ill, but that signs had been missed, warnings had been ignored, he'd been in a position to get help but hadn't. As a person who has a mental illness, I was appalled, embarrassed and hurt. It was the first time in my mental health journey that I wanted to hide my illness. The stigma that came from that instance was powerful. People looked at me differently after that when I said I was bipolar. Guys who were interested in me bolted like the wind when they found out I was bipolar. It hurt. But I was still very open about my disorder.
This shooting in Connecticut has affected me deeply on a number of levels. All of the children who died were six or seven years old. My Andy is seven, and I wept profusely when I saw the list of names and ages read last night. It affects me on the mental illness level (although, to my knowledge, nothing has been confirmed about any mental illness.) It affects me as a human being. The idea of that much heartbreak strikes a chord in me the same way it has everyone else who has seen it.
I've said for many years that the biggest problem facing our country in the field of mental health is not the lack of providers or access (although that is a grave concern), it's the fact that mental illness is so stigmatized that people are afraid to seek help. It's been my fervent desire to make that stigma a thing of the past. For several years, I've wanted to start an anti-stigma campaign to raise awareness of mental illnesses, the people who have them, the stigma surrounding them, and why none of them should be feared. I believe wholeheartedly that if people do not fear being ostracised or backlash for seeking help when they or a loved one develop symptoms of a mental disorder, they would be much more likely to get the help they need.
I believe if we eliminate or reduce the stigma, more people will get help and tragedies will be reduced. Not just widely-publicised tragedies like Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech, but suicides by teenagers who are afraid to tell their families that they hear things other people can't. People whose moods swing so wildly that they get manic, believe they are capable of things they simply are not, and end up breaking the law and causing themselves problems for the rest of their lives. People who are so depressed that their jobs, marriages, children, health, hygiene and homes all deteriorate - sometimes to the point of no return. These are tragedies, too - and they happen every day. But ALL of these are preventable. People just have to get help.
And here comes the sticky part for me, and what I have been building up to. In Christianity, ministers and missionaries speak of receiving "the call." They are called by God to do His work, whatever it is, and when they really have the call, they can't escape it. I feel very much like that about this.
For the last few years, I have been feeling the call to start an Anti-Stigma campaign. I would like to target teens and young adults with the message that Stigma Sucks. I've been worrying this plan in my mind for several years...I'll pull it out and tinker with it for a while, then put it on the back burner and ignore it for a few months. But it always, always comes back. And I just can't ignore it anymore. I feel too strongly about it. I want to do this, and I feel like it needs to happen. People need to hear this message. I feel like it could save lives. I feel like it could make peoples' lives better. I feel more strongly about this than I feel about any other topic in the world (save, of course, my family.) But there are a few flies in my ointment. Pretty big ones.
I'm a woman who is pretty acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. I'm an excellent idea person, but I'm not always a great executor. I'm a better Indian than I am a chief. I'm not the best at following through on my own - I need someone to remind me and keep me on task. I lack confidence in my own abilities. But what I do have, what I have in abundance, is passion. I want to make this happen. I want it desperately. I have ideas, plans, dreams, and a domain name. What I need is help.
That's where you come in. I need help. I need people, first to tell me if this is pie-in-the-sky bullcrap or if this is something that is a viable idea that I should pursue. Second, if this is a viable idea, I'm going to need manpower. I have a domain name, but I can't build a website. I can't do graphic design. I know nothing about non-profit organizations. All I have, really, are ideas and a domain name. I need people who believe the same way I do and know what the hell they're doing.
So what I'm asking you to do is please, if you will, pass this blog post along and help me reach the right people. I know this has been long, rambling and probably difficult to read. It's been difficult to write. But I really want to reach the right people. If it needs to be out of my hands, that's fine. I'm happy to be a little Indian who got the ball rolling. I just want the ball rolling, and I'd like to be a part of it if I can.
Thank you for reading this. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time. My heart breaks for the families in Connecticut and for every family who faces a tragedy of an untreated or undertreated mental illness. They can be prevented. Let's do what we can to stop the tragedies.