By Kaitlin Johnstone


Every year, on my birthday, I take the time to look back on on the previous year. As I sit in this moment and reflect upon the events of the past 12 months, I am going tell you the many things that made this year hard, painful, and at times unbearable. I am telling you these things not for sympathy, or compassion, but rather as a guide to jumping into year 33 of my life as a happier human being. I won’t only tell you my struggles but reiterate the importance of it’s in how to react to these difficulties, which shapes your character. There were many instances in which I found myself saying, why me? Why another failure, why another loss, why another burden? I began realizing that self-loathing was the route of all evil. This is not to take away from the fact that many events that took place over the past months did hit like a ton of bricks, and I recognize that and have allowed myself the time to grieve. However, I consciously aware of the ways I am choosing to heal going forward.


I have openly decided this year to discuss the impact that my father’s mental illness has had on my family. However, I am uncertain that I’ve ever painted a full picture as to the depths of pain it caused. To sum up the agony of loving someone who has a brain disease that millions of people will never understand I will describe to you the day my father finally went to the emergency room with me. It was July 23rd and my best friend so graciously allowed me to use her car while I was home for a visit to New York. After multiple attempts in trying to see my father while I was there, he finally agreed to a meetup at a local cafe. Upon seeing him, and thankfully unbeknown to him I could feel my eyes well up with tears and my jaw drop to the floor. His clothes dirty and falling off him, his hair yellowed and unkept, most shocking were his eyes; they were lost and sad. This wasn’t the man I knew, but for the love of the man who raised me I knew something had to be done. After 30 minutes of manic rants and encounters with old friends who walked into the restaurant I convinced him to go to the hospital. The local emergency room could do nothing to help his needs, so we piled into the car for what remains to be the longest drive of my life to a psychiatric er 40 minutes away. As we walked into the beautifully upgraded facility with gorgeous furniture and flat screen televisions on every wall, we were directed to the east lockdown wing. We were buzzed into what I can only describe to you as what I imagine a modern-day dungeon would feel like. The walls were dirty, it smelled of urine, and the rooms consisted of an old cot with Velcro doors. As frightened as I was for my father’s wellbeing, I held his hand and continuously told him everything would work out. We remained in that space for 5 hours until a doctor admitted him against his will (something nearly impossible to do in the state of New York) to a psychiatric hospital. The next morning is an experience that every person who has never dealt directly with mental illness has to hear. I went to Walmart to find my dad some toiletries and clothes for his stay and ended up standing in the middle of the store stuck in a state of complete and utter shock. You see, it’s not easy finding sleep pants that have no draw strings. In fact, try this next time you’re in Walmart. It’s nearly impossible and there I was tirelessly searching after days of no sleep for pants without a string, so my father or any other patient had the ability to harm themselves. What unfolded after that night was weeks of lawyers, criminal investors, debt collectors, and a slew of other crisis management situations that would take more than a few paragraphs to explain. However, none of that mattered. What mattered then and what matters now is that my father is alive. The man who taught me the importance of a switch hitter in a lineup can discuss the Atlanta Braves most recent trade deals with me. The man who once bought me a red rider BB gun because of my obsession with a Christmas story is here to live out our tradition another year. My dad is alive and is healing and in 2019 I am going to continue to remind myself of that very powerful message. I get to see my dad. Not only is my dad here, but I am grateful for a multitude of reasons. I get to wake up every day in good health next to the amazing man I love. I get to go into school and shape the minds of the future. I get to do all these incredibly powerful things that at times may feel like a burden, but this year I am going to try my hardest to remind myself of the beauty of my life. I am also going to consider the way I felt during my father’s lows, but continue to recognize the courageously powerful woman I was for fighting for his recovery. I won’t forget the pain, but I will praise the strength in which I had to make things happen; to move forward. In year 33, I will try to not get upset with someone who cut me off or was rude in a grocery store because they too may have just been trying to find pants with no draw strings. I will be present in my relationships that mean the most. I will take time for me every day. One day may mean I will get a massage and catch up on my latest book, however the next may simply be taking 5 minutes to sit in quiet. Most of all I will remind myself of something my incredibly beautiful, wise beyond her years niece told me a couple weeks ago that as I’m sitting here writing rings such a bold truth; I will keep moving forward. You see, had I froze, had I made a conscious choice not to take all the necessary steps to ensure my fathers wellbeing, then I’d have a very different story to tell today. So trust me when I say, kids know best. Whatever the struggle is today, keep moving forward.


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