Unique, alone, and never-ending.
When I started my journey seven years ago walking alongside family members who lived with mental illness, I was pretty sure those words would always define my experience.
My husband and I had become foster parents for two nieces, and I became legal guardian of a third, and we helped my parents as they took in a fourth. It wasn’t long before the severity of the girls’ PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, depression and anxiety became clear.
We who had known nothing, really, about mental illness would eventually become skilled advocates, experts in DBT, CBT, and OHCHWGA. (That last one? “Oh, holy crap here we go again,” familiar to many an overwhelmed family member.)
But at first, as we were swept up in a chaotic storm of self-harm, suicide attempts, ER visits, and psych unit admissions, we felt like No One Anywhere in the History of Ever could possibly know our fear, our exhaustion, or our desperation to help our loved ones. Or just get one worry-free night’s sleep.
Now I know differently .
After seven years of sharing my story, first hesitantly in conversation and then through stand-up comedy, I’ve found that like all experiences of the human condition, ours aren’t unique.
We aren’t alone. Now I know there are thousands of family members who have walked this road, known our fear, inhabited our exhaustion. I’ve talked to them in churches, in conferences, at schools and after comedy shows. They come up to me and say,
“How did you know? Who told you? That was MY story, MY experience, MY terror.”
Now I know, after walking alongside my fierce girls as they have fought for recovery, for stability, for a voice in their treatment and a voice in their lives, I know differently.
Never-ending? Nah. Mental illness is a lifelong experience for many, but it CAN get better. Recovery IS possible. So are meaningful relationships, new experiences, and fulfilling lives. I’ve learned that from my nieces, from the stand up comics I’ve trained, and from all who’ve rushed to share their story with me when they find out they AREN’T unique, or alone, and it won’t always be this way.
It gets better, and sometimes, you’ll laugh. I promise.
Tara Rolstad, along with the amazing Dave Mowry is co-author of the book, No, Really, We WANT You to Laugh: Mental Illness and Stand Up Comedy Transforming Lives that tells the stories of six comedians whose lives and experiences with mental illness were changed through learning stand-up comedy.
It was so exciting to hold the book in my hands. I’ve been the MC for Dave and Tara’s stand up comedy routines. Laughing about our experiences with mental health disorders is life changing. If you’re a parent of a child with bipolar disorder and are looking for a tool to help your child get back into the world- I believe that No Really, We Want You to Laugh can transform lives!