What does Mental Health Awareness even mean?

May is “Mental Health Awareness” month. Okaaayy. So what does that actually mean? I am sure for each individual, the meaning is different and highly personal. Some of you may be fortunate enough to not really know someone with mental health issues (though that is exceedingly uncommon, you probably do there is still just so much of a stigma) or some of you, like me, work, breathe, live, and die by it. I am not inferring that I am a mental health professional, far from it! But I can say that it has touched every aspect of my life. From myself to my mother, my sister, my niece (and her mother,siblings,cousins,friends) and even my own children. We have all had varying degrees of “mental health” issues.

My sister Marcie lost her life to mental illness. It took her long before her premature heart attack in March. She died just days after she turned 49. Our oldest sister also struggled with mental health issues and the circumstances around her disappearance,reappearance and sudden death at the age of 47 are eerily similar. It would appear that she had several good, stable years before her sudden passing caused by a brain aneurysm. She had been lost to us for years before I tracked her down on Facebook in September of 2012. I barely got a chance to know her before she died 3 months later. Since she was 11 years older than I am, we were not that close growing up.

My mother had her own issues, she was an alcoholic who suffered from depression. Her 3rd husband, my sisters’ father, was rumored to have killed himself or that he “accidentally” drove off a cliff.

My beautiful niece committed suicide in 2016 at the age of 16, she would have been 20 this earlier month. My children have had varying issues-mostly with anxiety and some depression ,especially after that tragedy. One of my children needed inpatient treatment, it was the hardest experience I have ever lived through. I am sure the same was true for him.

My children have decided that they do not want biological children of their own. We know that a variety of unsavory genes are passed down and even with the best nurture, nature plays a huge part. Unfortunately for me and my siblings, we did not have much of the nurture part and it has been apparent in each of our lives in some significant way.

If you are not familiar with the ACE’s study (though I think I have blogged about it on this site before) I highly suggest you familiarize yourself with it. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience. Even if your score is high, you are not doomed to a life of medical complications and early death but you are certainly more at risk. I look at how my sisters have died. I look at my life. I look at my priorities and it has been the driving force behind my desire to retire early. I have already had way too many health issues and feel that I am on borrowed time. I hope the work that I do with children in the foster care system some how balances the powers that be. Don’t get me wrong, I do it because it is so near and dear to me personally. Each of my sisters had a score of at least 8, likely 9. Mine is right there with theirs. My children’s score (that I know of) is 2-4, depending on the child. They are 10 years apart and my oldest had a much different upbringing than my youngest. So try as a I might….the generational and biological trauma can’t be outrun-but you can build protective factors to beef up resilience and that can make or break a person.

If you know someone who is struggling, say something. Even if it is just a , hey I am here if you want to talk or text. If you work or live around teenagers or anyone struggling with mental health, I urge you to get and share information from the suicide prevention hotline. Post something on your social media. Share a story, give some hope and let others know you see them and whatever version they are in the moment is accepted, cared for, and loved. If your loved one is struggling and identify as LGBTQ+ the Trevor Project is an excellent resource.

So what is Mental Health Awareness? This. This is me and my attempt to be brave enough to share part of my story with you, hoping to take some of the stigma out of mental illness. Trying to raise awareness that not only does it affect that persons mental well being, it affects their lifespan, physical health, their family, their children and their children’s children. Trauma is an intricate web. It touches every aspect of a person’s life and like a stone thrown in the river, the ripples are far and wide.

So what does Mental Health Awareness month mean to you?

As the page says, you only die once….

In my last blog post, I shared with you about finding my sister, who had been missing for years and presumed dead. My twin brother and I went out to see her in Las Vegas and we were all so very relieved that she was OK and had not died the way we had imagined. My sister has a long history of mental health and drug addiction issues so after a few years of not hearing anything from her nor being able to find her with a PI, we assumed the worse.

My mom passed away in 2016 and one of her last requests to me was to try and find my sister and look after her. It was heartbreaking for my mom to not know what had happened to her daughter. I made that promise, almost reluctantly because I did not believe she was still alive but my mom did.

When I was contacted in December by a woman named Johna via Facebook messenger asking me if I had a sister named Marcie, I was beyond shocked. She told me Marcie was sitting in her living room and asked if I wanted to talk to her. She was able to find me by using one of those people finder services and it said Marcie might be related to a Stacy Ziegler. Marcie knew I had moved to Washington back in 2011 from California so luckily I wasn’t that hard to find.

When I spoke to Marcie, I cried. I mean really cried. I am not a crier but I was so relieved that she was alive and did not meet the demise I was sure she had. I asked her why she never tried to contact me and she said she didn’t think I would want to talk to her. This was heartbreaking to hear. She had lived on the streets and was in and out of mental health facilities and group homes and had several delusions about her family. Johna had been her caregiver for awhile and decided she was going to help her find her family, for that I will always be so very grateful. She was not very well, physically, she had COPD at only 48 years of age but she had always had health problems and had heart surgery when she was 5 so it wasn’t that surprising. Originally my other sister and her daughters, who all live in California, planned a trip to Vegas to see her. I had decided to go on a separate trip as i thought that would be overwhelming for Marcie and to be honest, me. I don’t have a close relationship with several of my family members. During the planning stages, Marcie was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and her daughters and my other sister decided it was not the right time for them to go and see her so my brother and I decided to go.

Seeing Marcie for the first time in several years was so surreal! She was so happy. I don’t think I had ever seen her that happy in her entire life. We spent three days together catching up and hanging out. Unfortunately she had been moved to a SNF (Skilled Nursing Facility) after a brief hospital stay for her COPD in N Las Vegas that wasn’t taking very good care of her so we took her to get her hair cut and spruce her up. She had obviously suffered some cognitive deficits due to a variety of reasons over the years as she sometimes appeared to be very child like but she was so sweet and repeatedly said how much she loved Mike and me and you could tell she was really happy. We decided she could not stay in the SNF, they were not meeting her needs and it was a pretty desolate place. We began working on a plan to move her closer to her younger daughter in California. We were timing it so she would arrive just as I was getting back from my vacation so if anything happened or needed my attention, I could go to California. While I was in Las Vegas, I became her power of attorney so I could advocate for better conditions, treatment, and overall care.

On Thursday, March 12th, three days after Marcie’s 49th birthday, Johna packed Marcie’s things in the car and they began the trip to California from Las Vegas. They were singing songs and talking about California and how excited Marcie was to see her daughters after all these years. Unfortunately, Marcie never made it to California. She suffered a major heart attack and passed away. I will forever be grateful for the very short time I got to spend with her and I take solace in knowing that she died knowing that she had family who loved her and wanted to take care of her.

Life is fleeting, you never know if and when you will ever see your loved ones again so people, don’t take that for granted. Especially during this current time. I know it will never sit right with my sister or her daughters that they never got a chance to see her. Thank you Johna. And thank you to all the people out there like Johna who care deeply for people who aren’t their blood. Johna was the best sister Marcie could ever have had.

Where have I been? Where has she been?!?!

2020

What a year! Wait, it’s only March?

Where have I been? Where has she been? And by she I mean my sister who has literally been missing for 6 years and presumed dead.

I need to update my blog much more often than I have been and for that, I apologize. The purpose of this blog(beside keeping my readers informed) is to help me keep a timeline so when I finally pull the trigger and dive in to the book, I have a lot of the material and the timeline solidified. Boy am I blowing it.

Tomorrow, Lisa and I leave for Jamaica to celebrate her 50th birthday. We plan to complete our advanced scuba dive certifications while we are there and if I can get myself to dive back into reality, I will post about what has transpired over the last few months and my very recent trip to Las Vegas to see my long lost sister, obtain power of attorney and scrabble to come up with a plan after and some of her immediate family decided it was too much. Oh and I got to meet Christina Wilson. Such a wild and crazy life I lead at times.

Anyway, that’s the brief(?), disconnected, discombobulated update for now. I will update more the next few weeks, I promise. The take away is my sister is alive and knows that she has family who love her. My wife, brother and his girlfriend made sure of it. Here’s a picture of Marcie, my twin brother Mike, and me. Probably the first one of us together in 30 years