Mental illness has been around me my entire life and my experience is why I became a licensed professional counselor. My story begins with me being adopted into a loving home with two amazing parents and an older brother who was 8 years older than me. Throughout my life I can remember my parents always being concerned about my brother and the first thing I remember is him being gone for long periods of time. I would play in his room, which was super cool to me with all the albums and a great stereo system. We would visit him while he was away at various hospitals, but I never truly understood what was going on until I got older and realized that he suffered with a severe mental illness. I spent hours in waiting rooms, flipping through the hard back bibles and looking at pictures of Jesus and His disciples. I felt so badly for him and also selfishly wished we didn’t have to come to the hospitals any more.
Later on, as we both grew older, I would sing with my brother who was wildly talented at music and playing the piano. At one point, he sang in a traveling gospel group and it was always clear that he felt the most accepted in church and singing or playing in front of people. He would read music and also play anything by ear and when I wanted to learn a new song I would just play it for him on the radio and within minutes he was playing it better. I watched many people mistreat my brother due to his difficulties with mental illness and I watched them dodge him when he would try to start conversations, even those we went to church with. I always wanted better for him and for him to be able to experience a ‘normal’ life filled with friends and the ability to do whatever he wanted. But mental illness had different plans for him and I am thankful that he had a supportive and caring family who has always been willing to help him in any way we could.
After many years and many hospitalizations, I finished my education and went to work for a mental health company that provided support in the home. I knew this was the answer for my brother and from that day on he has never been hospitalized again. I became the CEO of that company and my passion to make the same difference in every mentally ill person’s life drove me to build the first and biggest program for services like these in Roanoke VA. My brother flourished from having support from someone other than family and he felt more independent by being able to go out with someone other than my mom. Later, I started Support Systems, providing the same type of services and my brother has continued to do so well. My staff adore him and see all of the amazing qualities in him that I do. Several years ago I started a day support program (PSR) and I wasn’t sure he would want to come and be around a group or people, but he tried it and has grown even more from having his own group of friends and participating in activities. My parents, who are 81 now, love that he does so well and they don’t worry quite as much about how his life will be when they are gone. My brother has taught us all about perseverance, humility, kindness, strength and love and I am so thankful that God placed me in his life…I hope that I can always do whatever I can to make him and every other person with mental illness feel loved, accepted and valued.