By Kaitlin Johnstone

#BreakTheStigma: My Personal Experience with Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I have decided this year to openly 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 of the pain it has caused. To sum up the agony of loving someone who has a brain disease that millions of people will never understand, I will explain to you the day I brought my father to a psychiatric emergency room. I could explain the sleepless nights worrying if my father would make it through another day, the days filled of worry, the messages of pure hate in which friends of my father ignored him in public spaces, the countless phone calls to police and local mental health organizations in yet another failed attempt in finding him help in a system that is more broken than that New Year’s Resolution I made to lose 10 pounds this year. But I am here to tell you of the day I first laid eyes on him after two months of not seeing him in person. Because in sharing my story, there is a very small part of me that hopes I may help someone else out there.  

It was July 23rd and I had traveled back home to New York to “check on” my father. After multiple efforts made in trying to see him while I was there, he finally agreed to meet at a local café. 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 were dirty and falling off him, his hair yellowed and unkept, most shocking of all; his eyes. As I hugged him and pulled away to look at his sunken in face, I stared into his eyes. They were lost and sad. This wasn’t them man I knew, but for the love of the man who did a damn good job in raising me I knew something had to be done. After 30 minutes of manic rants, and a bowl of uneaten soup later, I somehow convinced him to go to the hospital; something I had been trying to do for months. 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. As we walked into the beautifully upgraded facility with gorgeous furniture and flat screen televisions on every wall, we were quickly directed to the east lockdown wing. We were buzzed into what I can only describe to you as the dungeons of the Red Keep in Game of Thrones. The walls were covered in stains, it smelled of urine, and the rooms consisted of cots 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 over 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 ever dealt with mental illness has to hear. I went to Walmart to find my dad some toiletries and clothes for his stay and ended up in the middle of the store feeling completely stuck. You see, it is not an easy task finding sleep pants with no drawstrings. In fact, try this next time you are 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 no other patient had the ability to hurt themselves. What unfolded after that night was weeks of lawyers, criminal investigators, debt collectors, and a slew of other crisis management situations that would take more than this blog to explain. However, none of these matter. 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 baseball line up can discuss the Atlanta Braves most recent season with me. The man who once bought me a Red Ryder BB Gun because of my obsession with a Christmas Story is here to live out our Christmas Eve tradition another year. My dad is here and healing and in 2019 I continuously remind myself of what got us through it all. 


Recognizing that real friends were the ones who chose to understand, who chose to support, who chose kindness helped us make it through. Knowing that every day forward is a step in the right direction has helped us make it through. Recognizing the importance of looking at the beauty in sometimes very tragic situations got us through. You see, every day I see my father I see the ones who chose kindness and that in and of itself was enough. I also see the ones who chose not to understand and that reminds me of the courageous woman I have become fighting for his recovery. Behind everything we release at Kind Cotton, is a story. Thank you for listening to why choosing kindness means more than just a tee to me.


1 comment

  • What an inspiring story, Kaitlyn! Thank you for having the courage to post it. Mental illness should be a mainstream topic without any stigma. After our son’s death I was clinically depressed, so I know a bit about this area.
    May your Teacher Appreciation Week be wonderful.

    Marsha Quattlebaum on

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