My only brother received a gift two days after his birthday, and ten days before Christmas. It was a gift that every person who suffers from mental illness wants.
He carried a cross throughout his life called bipolar disorder. Many people – including me, our mother, his physicians, and his loving wife – tried to help him bear his cross. But he was a very proud man who tried to show everyone that he could carry it himself.
As he aged, he began losing his strength to carry on. He was courageous and made a sign with the words “NEVER GIVE UP” to remind him to keep trying to be the loving, kind, intelligent man he knew he was. But his cross caused him to stumble and fall under the weight of it.
My brother was the strongest, most courageous man I’ve ever known. I will always love him and be proud to say I am his sister. He walked a lonesome road all by himself for far too long.
He had support from his family and physicians, but WE could not walk that last road with him when he chose to be a recluse and stopped taking his medications. As an untreated person suffering from a debilitating mental illness, my brother added his name to the statistic that 30% of untreated bipolar patients die by suicide.
From all tragedies we can learn powerful truths. I want to encourage everyone to be loving, supportive, and compassionate with people who have mental illnesses. They are fighting battles in their mind which we cannot see or even imagine.
If you are tormented by a mental illness, please believe that there is real help and hope which you can receive from God, from people who care about you, and from medical science. You do not have to hide your illness or be ashamed that you need help to fight for your well-being.
If you are taking medications because of other forms of therapy, please continue to accept this support. More breakthroughs in mental health solutions are happening every day! Your life matters to many people who are ready, willing, and able to help you carry your cross. Please don’t walk that lonesome road by yourself.
And as for my brothers gift to himself…
Jerry, you left many gifts with your name on them under my tree. I still wanted to give you more love, more encouragement, more support, more compassion, and more forgiveness. The gifts will forever be under my tree waiting for you.
I love you, sweet brother. Rest in peace.
The Rev. Dr. Joy Cooper Heaton