Six Years Later… Grieving My Dad and How It’s Changed

Friday marked the sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. In many ways, I’ve defined the past six years by his absence. While he would have hated the term “daddy’s girl,” I was definitely that. I’m the youngest child (by a lot), and I spent a lot of time with Dad. We had similar interests; he is the one who taught me to love reading. He taught me to work hard and never to accept anything less than 100% from myself. And, he was the one I could talk to most freely about my mental illness. He didn’t understand every nuance of my depression, anxiety, or eating disorder, but he listened and oftentimes didn’t give advice. He just let me talk so that I put words to the pain and sometimes work things out on my own. When I was fighting the idea of having to take medication for my mental health, he was the first to use the metaphor: “If you had diabetes, you would take insulin every day and wouldn’t be ashamed of it, would you? This is the same thing, just for your brain.”

So, I loved my dad deeply. I know that I’ve built him up to a hero’s status in my mind, but that is who he is to me. He was not perfect and never claimed to be. I didn’t always agree with him, we had plenty of arguments, and my teenage self was embarrassed by him often; things that I think are all normal in a father-daughter relationship.

Anyway. I woke up this Friday morning early, thinking about how six years ago I was awakened by my phone ringing with my brother on the other end of the line to tell me that Dad had passed away. I hugged my husband and went upstairs in my parents’ house to tell Mom, in the dusky darkness of a February morning, that he was gone.

It wasn’t unexpected. Dad had his first stroke years before and had rallied, beaten prostrate cancer, and then experienced multiple transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs or mini-strokes). Within the last six months of his life, he’d fallen and could no longer live at home without 24-hour support. I desperately didn’t want to let him go, but I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore. None of us did. When I got home that Monday night before his death, I immediately went to his care facility and stayed up all night with him. I just wanted more time. I hadn’t lived in the same state as Mom and Dad for 10 years. We saw each other three to four times a year, depending on everyone’s schedule and when we could gather all the kids.

But, he wasn’t the same Dad I knew anymore, this husk of a man in a hospital bed. He would have been raging at us all in frustration because of how much he’d declined. He would have been furious with himself. Still, it was so hard.

How My Grief Has Changed

One of the trite statements people tell you after you lose someone is that grief gets easier the longer someone is gone. I appreciate their support and their desire to comfort, but I disagree. Grief doesn’t get easier. It changes. For me, my grief of losing Dad was a huge, raw wound I carried on my body for at least a year. Slowly, that wound started to scab over, but it was still there. But I don’t believe that it has dissipated or lessened. I think it’s morphed into a part of my being. It’s like that patch of skin on my elbow that I don’t think about every day, but I know it’s there, and when it itches, I’m keenly aware of that small part of myself. Sometimes all it takes is a simple brush of the hand against my skin to calm the itch, like when I share a memory of Dad and blink away tears. But other times, the itch is rampant, and I scratch it until it bleeds. The only thing that helps is balm and bandages, and the only thing that helps with my grief is wrapping myself in a blanket and lying there with my memories and my tears.

I’d planned on doing many things on Friday to honor Dad, to change the narrative of it being a day of itch-scratching and solitude. But, my body had different plans, with a painful migraine and interrupted sleep all night. Still, I did take a long walk to move my body — something Dad firmly believed in — and I hugged my loved ones. And, I know that it’s not just about memorializing February 17, 2017; I know it’s about living a life that he wanted for me: one that is physically and mentally healthy, full of love for my family, and with a strong work ethic to achieve goals.

23 in 2023

I had every intention of publishing this post on January 1st, but failed! Luckily, I’d put a lot of thought into the following already, so here it goes–out into the interwebs and ready to keep me accountable.

Taking inspiration from others, I decided to put together my list of 23 in 2023: 23 goals I want to accomplish this year. Some are small, indulgent plans while others are big and life-impacting. So here it goes.

23 Goals for 2023

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with Jim every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with Jim
  8. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  9. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  10. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  11. Run an in-person 5K race
  12. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  13. Go sugar-free for a week
  14. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  15. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day
  16. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  17. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation
  18. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  19. Keep a personal budget of $250 per month
  20. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  21. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  22. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  23. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Because I love to segment and chunk a list into categories, I focused on several different areas of my life for this list.

Focus 1: Stronger Relationships

First, there are the relationship goals that focus on spending time with my family, expressing my love, and growing my faith. There are seven of these relationship-based goals.

  1. Attend church on a weekly basis (unless we’re out of town)
  2. Go on a date with my husband every month 
  3. Have a kids’ experience every month
  4. Get a tattoo of the kids’ initials
  5. Celebrate Ryley’s graduation
  6. Have a family photo shoot 
  7. Attend a Notre Dame football game with my husband

Focus 2: Better Physical Health

And then there are the health goals, which range from cooking more to building a better, healthier body. There are eight goals here, but the most important ones to me are Numbers 2 and 7, losing weight and stopping my binge eating behaviors.

  1. Implement a cooking routine three nights a week (start meal prepping)
  2. Lose 50 pounds by 31 December 2023
  3. Walk and/or jog 21 miles a week
  4. Run an in-person 5K race
  5. Develop a weight-lifting routine twice a week
  6. Go sugar-free for a week
  7. Change my behavior from getting up to binge at night
  8. Drink 128 ounces (a gallon) of water a day

Another goal that needs to be on this portion of the list is to identify the cause of my migraines and find some type of regimen that keeps them at bay.

Focus 3: Improved Mental Health

Obviously it’s integral for me to achieve better mental health. 2022 was a year filled with anxiety, more so than depression, so I’m keyed into the importance of better mental health. There are only two goals on this portion of the list, but they’re really important.

  1. Learn 3 new physical coping skills
  2. Build the map of my life from Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F**king Lilies:
    • Where does my self-esteem come from
    • What are my principles
    • What is my affirmation

Focus 4: More Creativity, Less Spending

This last category of my 23 in 2023 is a catch-all of how I want to be more creative and more discerning about my entertainment. Some of these are very indulgent – like growing my Bookstagram (@jessicareadsmanybooks), but hey, they’re still goals.

  1. Keep a daily written journal (morning pages or other)
  2. Keep a personal monthly budget for entertainment (i.e. books)
  3. Write a new blog post every other week (26 total)
  4. Read 100 books, with 36 books from my TBR collection
  5. Abstain from book-buying for one month
  6. Reach 7,500 Bookstagram followers

Next Steps

So how is my progress so far? Well, it’s the fourth Sunday of the year, and we haven’t been to church yet. I’ve gained about 2.5 pounds, but I have walked/jogged 21 miles each week, and I’m pretty consistent about writing morning pages (or sometimes evening pages). I have started keeping weekly goal lists and monitoring everything so that I can make adjustments and see progress.

Do you have goals for 2023?

In the Existence of Mental Illness

Book Review

The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva

Amy is existing. She goes to work, makes excuses to avoid happy hours, and moves through life while knowing that simple existence is not right. She has something, a voice, a compulsion, a suffocating threat to any semblance of the life she used to have. Her friends continue to be there for her, but her secrecy, excuses, and separation keep her from accepting their kindness.

Lana Grace Riva has delivered a book that encapsulates mental illness, giving voice to every bit of Amy’s struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. Reading Amy’s first-person account of her mental illness was true and gave a voice to what it’s like in the thick of it, not after years of medicine, therapy, and improvement. It’s a rare book that truly does this.

Thank you to Ms. Riva for gifting me with a copy of this book to review and provide my own thoughts about this valuable mental health novel.

Overthinking About You: A Read-Along

Mental health is a passion for me. I struggle with severe mental illness (SMI), as I’ve shared on here before. But mental illness doesn’t just impact the diagnosed; it impacts their loved ones and anyone close to them.

Mental health and relationships come with their own sets of challenges. I am so grateful for my husband who supports my mental health journey and who is my unbending advocate.

That’s why I was excited to participate in The Tandem Collective Global’s real-along for the book Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression by Allison Raskin (Workman Publishing). This read-along was a great way to immersive myself in the book and answer questions about my contributions to my marriage while dealing with SMI.

What I Liked about Overthinking About You

I loved the thoughtfulness of this book. Ms. Raskin writes with a warmth and honest approach about anxiety, OCD, and depression, and how to navigate relationships while you have a mental illness. Another quote that hit me hard: “I might not feel this way or see the world this way, but I acknowledge and respect that you do” (p. 90).

This book is practical advice, research from experts, and nuggets of wisdom. While Overthinking About You is written from the standpoint of new and relatively new relationships, I found the discussions about anxiety and conversations about mental health applicable to my marriage. My husband is incredible, but I know my mental health puts challenges on our relationship. And that’s on me.

Activities in the Read-Along

As I completed the read-along, I highlighted passages and filled my notebook pages with resonating words. Here are three statements that rang incredibly true for me:

  • A useful acronym to respond to anxiety – “STOP: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed” (p. 40).
  • “It’s a lot more reasonable to ask someone to weather a storm with you when you already have a strong foundation” (p. 59).

And my absolute favorite:

“None of us are Superman, and that’s a good thing.”

Allison Raskin, Overthinking About You (p. 78)

Another activity asked about your healing rituals. Here are some of mine:

  • Sit outside with my husband.
  • Go for a long walk, ideally while listening to an audiobook.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Pet my dog.
  • Let myself have a good cry.

Also, I liked the read-along activity that asked us to think about our senses and what awakens them. I came up with these:

  • Seeing the bright colors of tulips and the Northern Lights
  • Tasting a delicious dessert
  • Smelling a great perfume, coffee beans, and fresh-cut grass

Final Thoughts

Ms. Raskin understands the importance of mental health, and she writes from a place of honesty and realism. This book isn’t full of broad-stroke advice that you’d see on a motivational Pinterest board. Instead, it’s a thoughtful look at how you can manage your mental health, specifically anxiety, OCD, and/or depression, and be in a positive romantic relationship.

I’m happily married to a wonderful man who supports me and my mental health. While some of Ms. Raskin’s messages were solely for people in the dating stage, I still took away some great points about how I must communicate what I need when I’m struggling and how I can take hold of my own mental health in relation to my marriage.

Overall, this is a 5-star book for me, and I highly recommend if you struggle with mental health and are/want to be/have been in a relationship. It’s a great read with a long-lasting message!

Two quotes I’ll end with:

  • “There is power in knowing you are not going to change your morals in reaction to pain” (p. 193).
  • “No matter what happens, my life is in good hands. They just happen to be my own” (p. 196).

What Anxiety Looks Like

I’ve been fighting back crippling anxiety for a week now. I’ve tried to explain what my anxiety feels like before, but my words don’t seem to accurately define it. I am going to keep trying, though.

My Picture of Anxiety

  • Checking my email inbox obsessively to see if my boss’s boss approved of my work.
  • Feeling like a did 30 minutes of cardio when I’m just sitting in my chair. Heart pounding, shallow breathing, body aching.
  • Knowing I need to complete my to-do list, but not being able to focus, and then feeling ashamed that I can’t check off my priorities.
  • Counting calories and steps with a fear I won’t meet my goals.
  • Snapping at my husband because he asked how I am feeling.
  • Panicking when I realized I booked a non-refundable trip.
  • Clicking Buy Now on Amazon because a book or a dress might make me feel better.
  • Being proud that I was able to leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Spending an hour talking myself up so I can leave the house for 20 minutes.
  • Sleeping because I’m exhausted, but having to take Klonopin to help me sleep.
  • Dreaming about trauma and failure.
  • Withdrawing from my family.
  • Cancelling a trip to the city to see friends because I can’t imagine getting on a train.
  • Wishing I could spend the day in bed, but feeling obligated to close my Apple Watch rings so that nothing bad happens.
  • Saying the same prayer every night so nothing bad happens.
  • Feeling like I’m walking in a razor-covered high wire.

Unbound: The Story of #MeToo

Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke

A Five-Star Book

Tarana Burke is an activist and the founder of the Me Too Movement that opened the door for thousands of women to finally raise their voices and share their stories of sexual abuse, violence, and harassment. Ms. Burke is a powerhouse, a woman who stands for so many BIPOC, for so many women and girls who do not have the words or the voices to speak up. She empowers us all to speak up and calls for the end of the horrors of sexual assault.

Ms. Burke begins her memoir by sharing the morning when her words, Me Too, became a viral hashtag that finally gave a voice to the silent suffering. But her memoir is much more than a recounting of how Me Too began. It is a vulnerable, painfully real story of truth that began when she was sexually assaulted as a child. With her truth, Ms. Burke shines a light on the meaning of #metoo, demonstrating that it’s not just a hashtag but a highly nuanced movement to hold others accountable for sexual violence.

As a Black woman, Ms. Burke explains how Black culture addresses sexual violence under a lens of not just taking care of others but with caution because of the countless Black men who have been violently accused and condemned and murdered by whites. This feels so wrong yet so relevant to what has happened in the U.S. for centuries. Her explanation was both vivid and heartbreaking.

Much of Unbound is about Ms. Burke’s realization that others have experienced the same type of pain and suffering. Their stories helped her to find her voice, and she returns that gift to others. This book is raw, honest, and brutal. But it is hopeful as well, as she encourages us to speak out and give others our voices.

I am thankful for Ms. Burke’s activism, her voice, and her courage to share her story. I do not yet have all the words for what violence and scars I carry in my past, but one day I will share my #metoo story. I hope it gives others’ strength to do the same.

Owning My Title

I have a doctorate, but I rarely use the title “Dr.” I’ve had bosses who told me to ‘own that title’ and bosses who said my education level doesn’t matter. I’ve been told to add my title to presentations and told to remove it, mostly when others may be “Dr” as well, and there’s a fear of missing them. I’ve been embarrassed in groups when bosses highlight my degree, and I’ve felt left out when they’ve forgotten.

But you know what? I worked for that title. I started my EdD when I was at a loss for my future. A job was ending. I was a divorced, single mom with an 18-month-old. I was virtually alone in a town that I didn’t choose to inhabit but was tied to because of my ex-husband. I chose to go back to school with no real plan because I knew school was what I was good at, what I could control, what I could succeed in.

Five and a half years later, I successfully defended my dissertation. I’d wept over my studies, pushed them aside when life got too hard, given up family time on the weekend so that I could add those letters to my name. So now, why should I diminish that part of myself?

I could name a lot of reasons: I’m not good enough; I’m an impostor because I got my degree online; I didn’t conducted two years’ of rigorous quantitative research. But you know what I did? I worked hard; I pushed my boundaries when I was afraid. I made a huge financial investment in myself. I proved that I am capable.

So, I’m going to own that “Dr.” It’s part of my identity. I don’t need to make myself smaller to compensate for others’ insecurities about their own academic backgrounds. I am still the same person: deeply empathetic, deeply introverted, deeply ambitious.

But I am a Dr. I will own that sh*t. I will not make myself smaller.

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month (Week in the UK). My company’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee tried to promote it and mental health support, but I only saw a few posts about it on our Workplace channel. I helped my department launch a campaign for mental health awareness, but I am sad that few people participated. I was the only one to make an individual post in support of the campaign. Now I’m unsettled because maybe my peers assume that I have a mental illness because I showed more support than others, and it feels like I’m standing out too much.

It’s true that I have serious mental illnesses. I share about my bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety here and on my social media channel. So if I’m putting my SMIs out in the web universe, why does this bother me? Am I a fraud because I’m nervous sharing any of this with coworkers? Am I contradicting what I stand for?

I think I am all of those things, but here are the excuses I tell myself when I shy away from talking about mental health in the workplace.

People Don’t Understand Mental Illness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2020), 13.1 million U.S. adults have SMI diagnoses. While that’s 5.2% of the adult population, it doesn’t mean understanding and recognition is growing at the same rate.

SMIs take many forms. Some people can be high-functioning, hiding their SMIs from others while they control their symptoms with medicine, therapy, and self-care. I don’t believe that you can be “healed” from an SMI. Rather, like a cancer of your brain synapses and chemistry, you can go into remission. That doesn’t mean that you’re healed; it means that you’re not showing symptoms.

Yes, SMIs are being discussed more than ever, but the stigma remains. From misrepresentation in the media to stereotypes about mental health, there are so many assumptions about what SMIs look like:

  • Uncontrolled anger
  • Moping
  • Irrational behavior
  • Victimhood
  • Weakness

Those are just a few of the assumptions that I’ve heard, and I know there are more. The stigma of SMIs is deafening, and it prevents more people from disclosing their diagnoses.

Disclosing Mental Illness at Work

I’ve been in the professional workforce for nearly 17 years now, and one of the things I’ve carried with me from the beginning is that I’m a failure and a liability if I show too much emotion. Emotion equals weakness, and weakness equals stagnation. But what happens when emotions are tied to SMIs that, at times, have been out of control?

When I had a breakdown in August 2020, I was terrified of taking vacation time. We were in the middle of a pandemic, and who takes a vacation from work then? I was hanging onto my job with my fingernails, even while I had multiple panic attacks daily. Despite hearing that my UK counterparts were taking 4-week-long holidays, people in the U.S. didn’t do that. My boss worked 12+ hours a day, so I needed to do the same. But when I couldn’t function anymore, I knew I needed time off.

So, I made the decision to talk to my doctor about taking a mandatory leave. She agreed. I should have taken more than 10 days, but I refused to allow myself more. My boss stopped me from sharing too much information with her because of privacy laws, so I focused on HR and my doctor shared only the most pertinent information.

I felt forced into a corner to take those steps because I wanted to protect my position at the company. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents firing because of medical leave like mine, and I was afraid of retribution because I was taking time off.

But that’s a bit irrational right? My company was pitching the boilerplate language of self-care, work/life balance, and taking time away. People in other countries were taking PTO and seemed fine with it. But that wasn’t what I knew. After all, wasn’t my boss working tons of hours? Why would I show weakness like that?

I don’t talk about taking that medical leave. I didn’t share why I needed the time. I needed more time, but again, I didn’t want to be weak.

Some things have changed since that time. I have a new boss who actively encourages taking time off. I do the same for my direct reports. The world seems more attuned to mental health in some ways. But, stigma remains. People remain quiet. And I question my actions.

When will we move forward? When will we normalize conversations about SMIs? When will we change the narrative?

Anxiety, a Psychiatrist, and a Lost Weekend

I am not sure how many psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and mental health experts I have seen over the years. I’ve lost count of those visits and of the medications I’ve tried. Since we have moved several times in the past six years, I’ve had to seek new help and new prescriptions every time, and that process is so tiring. I’ve seen good shrinks and bad ones, been taken off medicine too quickly and given new meds without warrant. But one of my psychiatrists made the largest impact on my life.

I’d met Dr. Donaldson shortly after I transferred from from one college to another in a different city. Because of my multiple suicide attempts, my dad had been seeking a referral for me for months so that I could see a doctor who had a good reputation and the potential to help his struggling daughter. I did not want to go see Dr. D., insisting to my mom that I was fine and I didn’t need a psychiatrist. She didn’t buy my pleas. “Your dad had to pull a lot of strings to get you this appointment. You’re going.”

And so I did. I arrived at Dr. D’s office and sat in a waiting room that smelled like old magazines and the 1980s. Our first appointment was thorough, but talking to Dr. D. wasn’t like my previous encounters with psychiatrists. He sat behind a giant lawyer’s desk and listened to me. He asked questions in a quiet, grandfather-like voice, and after I answered a few of his queries, I noticed he seemed to be interested in what I was saying, even when I was just talking about my summer, not my mental health symptoms. This doctor wanted to get to know me as a person before he handed over a prescription. What a concept!

He did prescribe me medicine, of course. We played with a few dosages and different meds for a while, but eventually I started taking EffexorXR for my mood, Trazodone to help me fall asleep, and Seroquel to help me stay asleep. It was a good cocktail of my mental health, until it wasn’t.

I saw Dr. D. throughout my final years of undergrad, and then when I started graduate school in a different state, he agreed to help me stay on my meds if I came back to see him whenever I returned home for a break.

I fell into a chest-numbing state of anxiety in October of my first semester. I had tripped trying to walk over to the phone in The English Center, where I worked 10 hours a week as part of my assistantship, and injured my back to the point I could barely walk to classes. Visits to a chiropractor were helping, but I was embarrassed by my klutziness in front of strangers. And, as we’d been in school for just over two months, my professors were amping up the assignments and readings. Plowing through 150 pages of critical theory a night plus writing response papers and helping grade first-year composition papers was a lot. I’d sit at my IKEA desk (thank you, Justyna) in my apartment and chain-smoke while I worked. I never slept in my bed; I fell asleep on the couch watching my DVDs of Friends on a round-the-clock loop. Not good for my back or my REM cycle. Finally, as the anxiety started to pull at my body even more and as I caught myself repeating tapping patterns, turning off light switches in quick succession of fours, and washing my hands until I was certain I wasn’t going to fail my Composition Pedagogy class, I called my psychiatrist. Something was off, and I needed Dr. D.’s help.

Anyway, I called Dr. D. in October of 2003 in a panic because my anxiety was over the top and I was terrified of failing out of graduate school (having yet to earn any grade lower than an A on an assignment; anxiety lies). He was still my doctor because we’d landed on six-month appointments that I could make work during school breaks. As it was a Thursday when I finally gave in to asking for help, he asked, “Can you take a break for a couple days?” I said I thought so. I didn’t have to be on campus that Friday, at least. “Good. Take two Seroquel tonight and try to knock yourself out for the full weekend. You’re exhausted and sleep is the best option for you right now. You’re exhibiting OCD symptoms because of your anxiety. Sleep and reset.”

So, I did. And nearly 72 hours later, I emerged from sleep and mindless TV binging to find that I did feel better. Not perfect by any means, but I could take deep breaths again and wash my hands in a normal fashion once more. Sleep would become one of my go-to ways to combat the anxiety and depression that took hold of me over many times from then on.

I’m not sure if doctors would prescribe three days of sleep with pills now. Several doctors have urged me to rest, but Dr. D. remains the first one to recognize that I need to take a break and to calm myself. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Finding a proper medical team is not easy. It’s painful. First you have to navigate insurance approvals, waitlists, and paperwork. Then you have to regurgitate your past mental health issues and talk about experiences that can push you back into that deep hole. And trying new meds? It’s a strain of adding new pills at different doses to the already complex cocktail of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills, maintaining a homeostasis to ensure that everything is working together, that a new med is helping, and that side effects are minimal. It’s exhausting. But worth it if you can find a doctor like Dr. D.

Why I Talk About My Mental Illness

I spent years fighting my brain, trying to heal myself, hide my struggles, and normalize who I am. I have come to (mostly) accept that my serious mental illness is part of who I am.

About a week ago, I received an unsolicited DM on my Bookstagram account. I had posted a photo the night before, referencing how reading books – getting lost in novels – is a refuge for my diagnosed anxiety disorder. The next morning, a probably well-meaning follower offered to send me samples of Matcha tea because she claimed that drink would soothe my anxiety and help my mental health.

Was she correct? Does Matcha help mental illness? According to a quick Google search, Neuroscience News reported in 2019 that a new study showed promising results when people with anxiety drank Matcha (read more here). Nevertheless, this seemingly innocuous DM enraged me. After deleting the DM and blocking the sender, I posted a photo of a green stack of books in support of #mentalhealthawareness that encapsulated my feelings about this unsolicited message. Here is an excerpt from that post:

I have disclosed my mental health struggles and the importance of mental health awareness. On top of sharing my love of books here, I use this little space of mine as a place to vocalize what took me decades to own (and some days I still fight it). Engagement on those posts mean[s] the world to me.

But what doesn’t help? Receiving an unsolicited DM this morning that “matcha will make you feel better” and that “you’re happy to send samples.”

Honey, don’t you think I’m trying every avenue to feel better already? Don’t you get that a serious mental illness is just that – an illness? Your DM reeks of trying to monetize my struggles, with scents of an MLM proposition on the side. Don’t capitalize on my honesty and vulnerability. Don’t @ me anymore.

@jessicareadsmanybooks – 6 March 2022

Why was I so upset? Because it felt too personal and it felt like the sender was trying to capitalize off my disclosure. It’s ironic that a “hard DM / promote it on [insert mental health tag here]” comments flooded the responses to my post, comments that I promptly deleted. But the experience has me thinking about why I post about mental illness.

My #greenstackformentalhealth

Mental Illness Should Not Carry Shame

I spent years fighting my brain, trying to heal myself, hide my struggles, and normalize who I am. I have come to (mostly) accept that my serious mental illness is part of who I am.

At first, as a teenager, I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought I was abnormal and hid my thoughts. I didn’t have the language to describe what was happening. Then, after a vodka-sodden night that ended in me tearfully blurting out the story of my sexual assault in college, my friends insisted that I try therapy. It wasn’t easy. Suicide attempts, psychiatric holds, and bulimia followed. But therapy and medicine helped me to find the words.

I learned that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, just like having any physical illness should not carry shame. My brain chemistry does not work correctly. The chemicals and the neural pathways need a prescribed boost to help me deal with my clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t need to explain this to everyone, but I do disclose when necessary or when I feel so compelled.

We Need to End the Stigma of Mental Illness

Aside from not understanding what was happening in my brain, the stigma of mental illness kept me from disclosing anything for a long time. Despite posting about it here and on my Bookstagram account, I don’t talk about it on a regular basis with people, other than close family. But, I am always aware of it. Completing my dissertation on mental health in the workplace helped me to understand the stigma that people with serious mental illnesses (SMIs) face. Also, I started to gather statistics to quantify the impact of SMIs in the world. I’m clearly not alone.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that in 2020, one in 20 U.S. adults – 14.2 million people – experienced an SMI (, 2022). And, one in five U.S. adults (52.9 million) experienced mental illness that year (, 2022). While the COVID-19 pandemic was a significant influencer of mental health in 2020 and continues to have an impact now, the numbers prior to the pandemic are just as significant:

From 2008 to 2019, the percentage of U.S. adults who had any mental illness (AMI) increased from 39.8 million people to 51.5 million people, and SMIs in the U.S. adult population increased from 8.3 million to 13.1 million people (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020). So, to break that down into percentage growth over a decade prior to the pandemic: AMIs increased by 29% and SMIs increased by 58%.

Those numbers – before the pandemic and during – are nothing to scoff at. So why does mental health stigma still exist? In my opinion, it’s a lack of education, a lack of awareness, and a deep-rooted fear that it can happen to anyone.

Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

The research on which populations are more susceptible to mental illness varies; however, it is true that anyone can experience mental illness. The disparities exist in who is more fortunate to have access to mental health services. As a white woman whose employer provides medical insurance, who has the funds to take care of my copays and prescription costs, and who has the option to choose from a variety of doctors, I am extremely privileged. It wasn’t always like this – there was a time in my life where I did not take my medications because of the out-of-pocket expense – but I have access to the help I need.

Others are not fortunate like me.

Statistics about Demographic Groups with Mental Illness

All data provided by (2022). Of demographic groups that have any mental illness, the groups that have the highest percentage of treatment are

  • Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual: 54.3%
  • Non-Hispanic white: 51.8%
  • Female: 51.2%

Of demographic groups that have any mental illness, those with the lowest percentages of treatment are

  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 20.8%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 35.1%
  • Non-Hispanic black or African American: 37.1%

Treatment is not equalized amongst the U.S. population (or any population). All statistics available from (2022).

  • 11 years: The average time it takes between onset of a mental illness and treatment
  • 134 million: The number of people who live in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area
  • 11%: The percentage of U.S. adults who had a mental illness and no medical coverage in 2020
  • 11.3%: The percentage of U.S. adults who had an SMI and no medical coverage in 2020
  • 46.2%: The percentage of U.S. adults with mental illness who received treatment in 2020
  • 64.5%: The percentage of U.S. adults with SMI who received treatment in 2020

Why I Need to Talk About Mental Illness

Sharing about my mental illness is not easy. It is not something I take lightly. But for all the reasons above, and more that I can’t quantify right now, I feel obligated to disclose what I struggle with. I have a tiny platform, but I have a voice. It’s important to me that I share it.

But don’t DM me with a proposition to capitalize on my decision to speak out.