Today’s post is by Leland McKeeman of Footsteps A Hike For Mental Health
It was something I had to do.
Sometimes, I just get a feeling of something I can’t deny. I’ve had it a few times before. I decided to live abroad for a year. To switch universities and programs. To live and work a thirty-hour drive away from my friends and family. And now, to hike 2,200 miles in the pursuit of better mental health.
I think my impulsive choices stem from my bipolar disorder, or my personality, or maybe a bit of both. And it’s one of those things that has changed my life so much for the better.
Sometimes I think to myself, “Would I take it all back?” I wonder what life would have been without having bipolar disorder. A futile exercise, yes, but it brings me to the point: how does this hard dose of adversity change us?
Perhaps I am an optimist, but I would like to think that somehow we are better people as a result of our adversity. We have learned to live. We have learned to work. And we have learned to forgive ourselves as we do of others.
When I write about what it was like to have bipolar disorder, I try not to get into the rut of saying how awful it is. And much of the time, it really bloody sucks. I guess I try to see that sliver of silver lining. After being close to death, it gives one a new appreciation of living.
For a long time I wondered why I was having mood swings. What did I do wrong to become depressed? What does it all mean? After ten years of symptoms, I have come to realize that my depression and mania are simply waves of a very fickle and irregular tide.
Through these tides we do indeed make a wake. It’s our personality and heart that make through all of the baggage of our disorder.
It is with great grace that I have lately found my mind to be relatively calm and without drastic mood swings. I hope to impress upon you out there who are in the struggle now with mental illness that there is hope. Things do get better, and whatever pain is going on now will not be there forever.
In this calm I am given the opportunity to do this hike. I will be starting the Appalachian Trail in March of 2016 in Georgia, and walking the nearly 2,200 miles to Maine. I am doing this for myself; it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In addition, I am raising money for mental health research charities. I have been very successful in raising a lot of money. So many of my friends, family and total strangers have opened their hearts and wallets for the cause. I have learned that a personal story about mental health goes a long way in galvanizing support for these charities.
In the United States, I am supporting Hike for Mental Health, an organization that funds mental health research grants; please visit their website at hikeformentalhealth.org. In Canada, I am supporting the Jared Parker Memorial Scholarship Fund, which funds graduate studies in mental health research at the University of Northern British Columbia; learn more at www.gofundme.com/jaredparkerunbc. This fund was started by the parents of a son who took his own life, as a way to make something good in his legacy.
It’s obviously more than about money. It’s about giving a face and a voice to us with mental illness. When I started this, my biggest fear was losing friends and family, and facing a hostile workplace. As I went public with my hike and my illness, I braced for backlash.
It never came.
For so long I had lived with the mindset that I was never going to be accepted. I had this deluded view that no one would understand and no one would help. I was wrong.
I guess I did know I had a lot of folks on my side, but I vastly underestimated how many there were. I hear personal stories about people’s illness or the illness of a loved one. Total strangers have come to me and told me that my hike means a lot to them. Friends and strangers have confided in me their own stories of illness.
I have had a few people say that I am brave to be so open about my bipolar disorder. While this is a good compliment, I hope for a day when it doesn’t have to be brave to be open about mental health. I wish to see a world where stigma doesn’t prevent people from getting the help they need.
Thank you, Leland for sharing your story and the good work you’re doing. For more information or donate to Leland’s cause, visit his website www.footstepsformentalhealth.wordpress.com