Mental illness, unlike breast cancer, isn’t celebrated with big marches or pink ribbons. The stigma is stifling and it prevents most people from seeking help. David, my husband, refused to accept the label of bipolar disorder. He could not imagine a life of medications and therapy, which did so little to help. David's path is not unique. Suicide is now the ninth most common cause of death for men and women in America. Every thirteen minutes, another American dies from suicide.
What could we have done differently?
What should we have known?
It is my belief that many people could benefit from hearing more about how psychiatric conditions unfold. In the years, months and days leading up to David's death, I didn’t classify him as mentally ill. I missed many signs. I ignored others, believing it could get better. And I scrambled, as the world came crashing down around us, I scrambled to maintain my own sanity and the health of our daughter.
Our daughter celebrates her birthday each June. I can't help but measure her birthdays with an equal sense of apprehension and elation. She’s a teenager now, and still no sign of the brooding, the polarity, the darkness that descended on David like Portland’s thick gray clouds in January, refusing to budge. Yes, she has his intellect but she also has my relatively sunny nature. She is physically stunning with long, muscular legs and a waist that defies her voracious appetite. She has David's European cheekbones. The color of her skin is his. Her ears have the same shape. There are times I find myself staring at one of her features for too long. She bats me away, “Mom, enough.”
After David's death, I'd read every book I could get my hands on about bipolar disorder. I’d measured the likelihood of a genetic inheritance against the things I could influence-- her diet, her sleep, exercise, a sense of well-being and unconditional love. She is just fine, so far. Becoming aware of our family's genetic vulnerabilities was painful, but it provided a unique gateway to also focus on our genetic strengths, and Sophie has inherited a majority of the good stuff. She's attending college now with the sensitivity, compassion and intellect of a person who will be better than "just fine."
I want everyone to know about the signs and symptoms that I missed with David. The anxiety, confusion, disorganization, trouble completing tasks and how withdrawn he became. My interest is in preventing another loss of life as exquisite as David's. I welcome your emails, your stories, and hopefully, your support. Connect with me by visiting: SheilaHamilton.com and sign up for my newsletter. I'd be so grateful if you did.
Five-time Emmy winner Sheila Hamilton is the news director and morning show co-host at the top-rated rock station in the country, KINK-FM in Portland. She also serves as the public affairs director and hosts an award-winning weekend talk show. She is currently Portland’s #1 Radio Personality. She is the author of “All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness” (Seal Press).
Hamilton writes cover stories for About Face magazine and serves on the board of Girls Inc., an organization empowering girls to be strong, smart, and bold, and of The Flawless Foundation, a mental health advocacy organization.
For more information, visit SheilaHamilton.com