broken heart railroad tracksLast week I had the opportunity to represent my book as a panelist at the Virginia Festival of the Book. The panel presentation, “How to be Your Own Hero in Mental Health,” was filled to capacity, with standing room only. Attendees included those suffering from severe mental illnesses, those on their roads to recovery, and those whose life mission is to help others find light in the midst of their pain.

I shared my message of Hope after Suicide. Another panelist, Beth Gager, author of A Rooted Mind, shared her healing journey following a diagnosis of schizophrenia. And Michele Phillips, author of Happiness is a Habit, confessed she was born an optimist and encouraged us to implement daily rituals that can add joy to each day.

Two days after returning from Virginia, I found myself in my own slump—looking for energy and light. I breathed in the beautiful spring blossoms, walked, read scriptures, prayed, and even wrote a gratitude list.

I opened the windows to let in the light and listened to the birds outside my bedroom window. I noticed the buds on the once dead branches of the tree in my backyard and took pictures of the spring flowers pointing heavenward. And still I felt a tinted film cover my brain.

I purposely covered up the To-Do list I had made just moments before and determined that today I would follow my heart. I would simply BE.

My mind wandered to the mental illness support group I attended as a guest following my panel presentation – to the stories of hospitalizations and handcuffs and a longing for understanding and validation of an illness as real and sometimes as life-threatening as cancer. And yet, this illness remains invisible to many. A hidden illness that can only be seen with the heart.

If our hearts are closed, we sometimes judge the mentally ill as lazy, as odd, as sinful, as scary, as criminal. When we see a homeless man, we cross the street to avoid eye contact. “Get a job,” we tell the person who needs health insurance – unaware of the pain in their heart or the darkness in their mind.

Hidden illnesses. Illnesses of the brain.

No cast announces the pain. No bandage reminds us to touch gingerly, to handle with care.

And we cross the street.

Today, I will remind myself to be kind to myself. Today I will hold my own heart gingerly.

Today, I will simply BE.

And I will SEE.

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