By Kaitlin Johnstone

Mental Health

How can you find your authentic self when you are living in trauma that the world stigmatizes? It was not until we started Kind Cotton that I began sharing my father’s journey of dealing with his mental illness. As I sit here today, about to become 35, I am realizing all the years that I didn’t allow myself to heal. So here is my story. My chance to share with you all the importance of caring for myself and giving myself grace. This is my opportunity after all this time to recognize I have been through a lot. I need to acknowledge that my feelings are valid and that during a time when my biggest worries should have been what to wear to prom and what colleges to apply to, I was trying to piece together what happened to the man I loved who had become a stranger. This pattern continued for the past 19 years without much discussion or any outlet. It is a cycle. A few years of regulated meds and then the mania slowly creeps in and before we know it, I am thrown right back to my childhood bedroom; confused, broken, and in constant fear. I have decided this is my time to unpack and mend. Much of this comes from becoming a parent myself this past year.

 All I want in life is for my daughter to see her mother as a role model. I want her to see me as see a strong woman who loves herself. Who takes her mental well-being seriously in order to fully give her love to those who matter most in her life.  So, I thought what better way to discuss my father’s past than with a therapist. It is interesting because depending on who you say this to, and in which circles you say it, the reaction is very different. Some think it is wonderful and talking about therapy should be normalized (I clearly agree with these folx). Others seem to think therapy is all a bunch of hocus pocus, or even worse, a form of weakness. I have also received many questions that go like this: “Oh, my goodness are you ok?”, “What exactly is wrong?” “Things must be awful for you to seek help.” So, before any of you have those questions, I want to paint a clear picture of why I decided to confront my dad’s mental illness with a licensed professional.

Becoming a first-time mom and the pandemic hitting all at the same time was not easy. I experienced a life altering event in a time that the world faced something that will go down as a massive tragedy for all of history. Worrying about the safety of my loved ones and having to see grandparents outside with masks on because you do not want to put anyone in danger certainly gave me some anxiety. Leaving my full time job for the year because I felt the safety of teachers, staff, and students was not considered was also a heavy burden to bare. My anxiety was not to the point of getting in the way of motherhood or daily activities as many of my friends have shared with me they have suffered from. However, even slightly feeling this way brought about the realization that I have never provided myself with a safe space to talk about what I had been through growing up. I decided to take a proactive approach to my mental health, especially considering my family history. Within the first 5 minutes of my first session with my therapist she said something that truly resonated with me. “Kaitlin, have you ever taken the time to sit down and truly acknowledge all that you’ve been through and how beautifully you’ve coped thus far?” Clearly my answer was no. I checked my father into a psychiatric ward because he needed help. I took over all his finances. I filed for his retirement. I cleaned out a trailer he was living in and sold it for cash. I turned his electric on when he did not pay the bills. I called the police and mobile mental health so many times that I have a handwritten log 20 pages long. I signed a lease for him because he went bankrupt. I filed for his social security. I gained power of attorney because he lost every bit of money he worked three jobs for his entire life. But also, I held his hand while he cried in fear not understanding what was happening to him. He put our family through a tremendous amount of suffering, but I recognize how sick he was and I feel more equipped now to handle my mental health and feelings toward this situation as well as any other stressors that I may be faced with along the way.  I also want to let the few of you reading this know that you are not alone, and you are worthy of taking care of yourself.

Throughout the years, we have put products out that were inspired by my father; however, we never put out a mental health line because, for me, it hit too close to home. Nevertheless, after hours of discussions with many of you this past year, this is needed. As with our 'Kindness Is' tee, we're creating this line based around what mental health means to you. I am excited to share this tee with you and the reason behind it because so many of you had a special part in making it.

Hope; two and a half years ago I was told by ER doctors that if my dad waited another week to get treatment he would have died. He is here now and doing well. He gets to be a part of his granddaughters’ life. His medications are regulated and he is happy. I am often reminded of this conversation I had with his doctor when thinking of the pandemic and I am calmed by a realization that nothing is permanent. This too will end and I am instantly provided with hope.

Self Compassion; my therapist pointed out my efforts in becoming antiracist the other day and said something so profound. "Why is it so easy for you to advocate for others, but incredibly hard for you to show yourself the same love and compassion?" This is something I assume not only I, but many others, have to work on. You know the old saying, take your own advice….well I think we should all take the love and compassion we give others and apply it to ourselves too. We deserve to see the best in ourselves and we must continue to provide the same grace to ourselves that we do to our loved ones.

Acceptance; It was Christmas Eve when I was 28 years old. Kev and I had traveled back to New York as we do every year for Christmas and I was staying in my childhood bedroom. We had finished our Chinese takeout and watched A Christmas Story (a tradition we’ve had for as long as I can remember). As we all settled down for a long winters nap, my dad decided there weren’t enough logs out on the outdoor wood stove. So, at midnight, he decided to go out and franticly start chopping wood, throwing it into the fire. After a few logs he’d walk in the house forgetting what he was doing. My mom would plead for him to get some sleep, but he’d simply walk back out repeating this cycle over and over for hours. I sat in my room that night, 12 years after he was first diagnosed Bi-Polar, took a deep breath, and acknowledged my father’s illness. For so many years I wanted to pretend it wasn’t real. I wanted him to go back to the man he once had been and I was never ready to let go of my childhood. But in that moment, something shifted. The acceptance of his illness in turn made me a better advocate for him because it allowed me to disconnect from the pain and feel the truth. We can hide from our mental health until it reaches a boiling point, or we can take an approach of acceptance and continue our journey.

Strength; making a conscious choice to focus on your mental wellbeing takes a lot of courage. Admitting that there are long lines of mental illness on my father’s side of the family and telling my husband I wanted to ensure that was never me is not a sign of weakness. In fact, I find the contrary to be true; it is my strength. For me, therapy is my strength. Meditation is my strength. Fueling my body with healthy foods and vitamin D is my strength. This past year has been unlike any in the history of time and we are all walking proof of the strength it takes to love ourselves.

Commitment; much like starting a new work out plan, or telling yourself you’re going to read each night before bed, your mental health is a commitment that no one can tell you you’re ready for, but yourself. Prioritizing your mental health is not your latest New Year's resolution. It is a lifestyle; something you have to work at every day. I decided this year that I am going to show up for me and do what is best to keep myself healthy. Regardless of what’s happening in the world around me, I am choosing to work each day to be my whole self.

; Another important aspect of this tee is the significance of the semi colon as opposed to the period. In the mental health world this signifies a continuation of one’s story. The idea that when you have hope, treat yourself with compassion, accept where you are, value your strength, and commit to your health your story does not have to end. My father’s journey has continued and mine has just begun.

As with any new release we tell you a story behind it. Although it has always been a personal one, this is one we’ve been waiting to tell for 4 years. With the discussions of prioritizing mental health in schools (which we all know is not happening currently) and hearing about so many mental health struggles this past year, I knew the time was now. You are not alone. You are valued. You are loved. You are worthy of care.

With each purchase from our 'Mental Health Is' Collection we will be donating a book that focuses on social emotional learning. We have worked closely with school counselors, teachers, and psychologists (shoutout to my best friend for all the help with this line) for their input and we're so happy for the opportunity to put these books in the hands of kids.

The 'Mental Health Is' Collection now available for preorder

The world deserves a little hope, compassion, acceptance, strength, and commitment to mental health right now. Here for you all.


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