Heather: Moving to Acceptance
Initially, Heather's brother Brad was adamant that he did not have a mental illness, but now, seven years after his diagnosis, he is moving toward acceptance. In the last six months Brad has started to say he has a disability. Her parents have accepted Brad’s diagnosis; however, the family is still trying to figure out how to interact with others about mental illness—how public or private they wish to be about Brad’s experience.
Heather spoke about her brother with pride when sharing what he has accomplished while living with bipolar disorder. He went back to school and finished college with support from Heather’s father. He sets a goal and works toward it with determination. She observed, “That’s a real character trait. Really admirable. He’s teaching me about how to be determined and independent. I’m lucky to have him. He has so much to offer the world if you just find the right place for him.”
She acknowledges there is stress in coping with and managing mental illness, but good things do happen also. She spoke about amazing people who have accomplished much while living with mental illness and explains that she has grown in acceptance of differences in others.
In general, I’m more accepting. I serve on a couple of different volunteer boards. You see all these distinct personalities and sometimes they’re kind of odd. It’s okay. I don’t know what their backstory is and I recognize there might be things going on in their life or experiences they’ve had that I don’t understand and that’s okay.
One of the biggest decisions that Heather has come to accept is the decision not to have children.
Scott and I have decided not to have children, for a variety of reasons, but a big one was I think mental illness, because we know how difficult it is to live with it and to manage it. We don’t want to have a child that really struggles. That’s hard. I can recognize that not having a kid is the right decision for Scott. I feel 100% that it’s the right decision for him. Because he doesn’t do well with stress. We both function really poorly with no sleep. It would be really hard to have a kid. But that’s been harder for me. I’m not totally sure it’s the right thing for me. I feel like 80% maybe it is, because I’ve never dreamed about having kids. I’ve never thought about it really or planned on it. But now we’re making a really conscious decision not to and that’s been about a five-year process. We talked about it for a long time. We cried about it for a long time. Then we saw a therapist, which I think was great.
Their decision changed Heather’s perspective on what is important in life. Instead of saving money for children in her future, she is now focused on finding ways to improve community life.
In the past, Heather tried to help Brad prepare for a job search by coaching him on writing a resume and improving his personal hygiene, but he resisted her attempts to help.
I had to recognize I was being too pushy and it’s not my place to give him these things, so I decided instead of trying to change my brother I would channel all of that energy over into advocacy. That’s been a much better outlet for everybody.