Mental Illness: What happens when we experience a crash?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Mental illness often is described as the invisible disability. Families don’t like to talk about it. We rarely notice it—until there is a crash.

This week, I’m sharing a personal story about my introduction to mental illness—a story that involves both a real and a psychological crash. While it’s not uncommon, these days, for people to talk about their problems with anxiety and depression, people tend to fall silent when discussing psychological conditions that go beyond something a daily pill can handle. Since my eyes have been opened to these problems—including the problem of silence that surrounds mental illness—I now recognize more and more families who are struggling through this long journey.

I am shocked by how under-served this disability is and how little support families receive in most communities.

So, please, read this story that opened my eyes.


A crashed carI call her the girl who chose me. We met when I was coaching volleyball. We were a gritty team. Not a lot of skill base, but determined none the less. She was the one who found the good in things, tried every play, never complained.

I’m not really sure how our connection moved from coach/player to more. I can recall a really long walk on a hot day with her wearing flip flops. Slowly, over time, she told me her story. You’d never know it if you looked at her. She looked perfectly normal, yet her life was anything but that.

Over time she became a part of our family. She spent hours with my kids. We did what families do. As her senior year came we looked at colleges, found the perfect match, and off she went.

It was after her freshmen year that the car accident happened. She hit her head. After some time in the hospital, doctors deemed her okay and sent her home. With me.

It was the beginning of the descent. Injury couple with genetics brought out the worst and it was terrible. The happy, carefree girl laid on my couch for hours. We went to doctors and therapists. She recovered somewhat, but wasn’t the same. However, she was determined to return to school. When she went back in the fall, I worried about what might go wrong.

I was right to worry. The texts would come telling me she was on the edge. I would follow with phone calls, praying she would answer. Her counselor and I had each other on speed dial. Inevitably, the worst happened, an attempt to end her life.

The diagnoses over the next few years were varied, but the behavior was consistent. Do okay for awhile and then spiral. I’ve still never seen anything as difficult as this.

Slowly, slowly, she steadied. It took time and effort, but with the determination I had seen years ago—she succeeded. She rebuilt her life and became the woman she was meant to be.

The girl who chose me is married now. My mom and I went to her wedding. I sat in the back row and watched her give her love to her husband surrounded by her family. I never thought I would see the day. I am so proud of her, and truthfully I am proud of myself that I was able to play a part in her being there.

The backseat was a fine view for me.

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