- Debbie, welcome to “Take Ten.” First of all thanks for sharing your story through your book, SILENT VOICES, and bringing attention to the issue of mental illness. What has it been like for you to see the way people are responding to your experience?
Most of the responses have been very positive and kind. I have received a lot of support and acknowledgment from friends and strangers over the past few years. In most of the responses people have stated they have learned a lot about mental illness and what a family endures or struggles with in dealing with mental illness. Furthermore, a lot of people have also stated they did not know the statistics and were very surprised on how many people have with mental illness.
On the other hand, I have had a couple negative responses from people who do not understand mental illness. They still support the negative social stigmas against mental illness or they felt mental illness was part of the Devil’s work. This was shocking to me and a surprise considering all the information that is available today and the fact that we are not still living in Medieval times. I just look at these folks as people who are ignorant, lacking education, compassion and understanding. Hopefully someday they will realize mental illness is a disease and not a personality issues or religious damnation.
- It’s obvious in reading the book that parts of what you shared were difficult to go through. Was it also difficult to decide what you wanted to share?
Yes, is was very difficult. I was not sure how much I wanted to share about the day of the tragedy. However, I knew in my heart I had to share everything to make sure people who read the book could fully understanding the emotional struggles that my parents, my siblings and I went through. It is never easy to share your fears, frustrations and vulnerabilities, but I also knew my journey and my family’s journey could possible help someone else.
- Mental Illness is sometimes a difficult subject for some to have. Do you hope to change the perception of what it does to the individual and the family through the work that you are doing?
Yes, absolutely. I find it very sad we can not openly talk about mental illness without the fear of being judged. So many families are struggling with mental illness. Actually, one out of five people will experience mental illness sometime in their life. That is 20% of the world population, 1.5 billion people. For the US that is 64 million people yearly. So why is it ignored has a disease? It frustrates me that people do not treat mental illness as a disease, but yet, there are more people struggling with mental illness than Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Multiple Sclerosis or Muscular Dystrophy. As a society we need to give mental illness the respect that it deserves. We need to start teaching people that there is nothing to be embarrassed about and to encourage people to talk openly about their struggles without fear.
- Out of curiosity did you always know that you would write your story? If not, what led you to do so?
No, I did not always know. The first few years I was consumed with grief and shock, so I was not able to see what our story could teach. However, after a few years of healing, I started to realize that my families story could really teach other people about the issues and struggles within our medical industry toward mental illness. I shared my idea with my parents and they were both very encouraging and supportive that I should tell my story. My mom and I both felt that my brother’s voice needed to be heard and maybe his journey could possibly help someone else. I also did not want my brothers deaths to be in vain; their voices needed to be heard too. Plus, I also felt it was very important to make something positive out of a horrible and negative situation.
- Forgiveness is definitely a powerful component of your story. How has it helped you to discuss your journey with forgiveness and being able to move on?
I have to admit, writing this book was very difficult. I knew I had to confront certain emotions that were buried deep within myself. It took me a long time to write, over 14 years. As I slowly started to write the book, I realized that my family and I were not emotionally ready to share because we were still working through the grief and healing process. After 14 years of writing, a little here and there, my mom asked me to finish the book because she knew (with all her mother’s wisdom), it would be a big release for me. Writing this book was not only healing, but it also gave me freedom from all the pain, grief and anger. I also feel in a passive way it was a release for my parents too.
What was surprising for me was discovering the different levels forgiveness that I went through. I think forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things a person has to go through when they have been deeply hurt mentally, emotionally and physically. However, you have to forgive to be able to heal and move on.
Forgiving my brother for the “act” of killing my two brothers was actually very easy for me. I forgave him immediately because I knew he only did it because he was very ill. At the time, he was diagnosed with Acute Schizophrenia, which is the worse case you can have. He actually thought he was saving my brothers, not killing them. So, it was easy for me to forgive because I still loved him very much and it was the right thing to do. Plus, my parents immediately forgave him, supported him and never abandoned him. They set a wonderful example for myself and my sibling of what forgiveness is all about.
As I was writing this book, I realized there were other levels of forgiveness that I had to work through. I had to forgive my brother for betraying my family and I; for destroying our stability; for destroying our family dynamics; for shaking my inner spiritual beliefs; for taking away my childhood innocents; for robbing me of any memories and experiences with my brothers and for causing me deep fear, anxiety, depression and PTSD. It took me many years to work through these feelings and forgiving him for changing my family.
On my journey of forgiveness, I finally realized forgiving him was for me and not him. Just because I learned to forgive him doesn’t mean I wasn’t still holding him accountable, I was, but I also knew it was time to let go. I decided life is a choice, you can either choose happiness or anger and hate. I decided to choose happiness because I remembered a quote that stated, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% on how you react to it.” Isn’t that true on so many levels?
Forgiveness was the best gift I gave myself and it helped me to move on and enjoy life all over again.
- You also have an organization that you founded called SILENT VOICES. What is the aim?
I established Silent Voices Foundation to bring awareness to Schizophrenia and mental illness. After my family’s tragedy, I always knew I had to do something positive from this terrible event. After witnessing the struggles my parents went through not being able to get help for my brother, I knew there had to be some changes and I needed to do something to bring awareness to this issue.
Many people have endured great hardships when a close relative or family member has been diagnosed with mental illness. Unfortunately, many times, there is a lack of available medical assistance, affordable medications, halfway homes or affordable facilities within a community. There is also a lack of coping skill programs for families to understand and support the illness.
The goal for my foundation is to raise money to help support counseling and programs for families; support halfway homes around Colorado and to support research in finding a cure for Schizophrenia and other types of mental illnesses.
- How did you get over the fear of what people would think when it came to your mission of raising awareness about mental illness?
Easy…. it’s there problem, not mine.
- Social media is one of the ways you share messages about stigma and education. How have sites like Facebook helped you in building a community?
Social media has definitely helped get information out there more quickly and easily. For instance, May is considered Mental Health Awareness month, so I shared 6 videos on mental health topics. Without social media, I would have not been able to do that.
Social media can be a great platform to spread information. It is nice that social media allows you to stay connected with family and friends, plus allowing you to connect with strangers. However, I have to admit, I have not taken advantage of social media like I should.
- What can readers expect next from you, Debbie?
I am slowly writing a second book about working through the grieving process. I wanted to share my experience and help give insight on how to heal and find life again. It has been hard to go back to my feelings of grief and write about it, especially when I’m feeling happy. So needless to say, writing this book has been very slow process.
I also just recently started working on another project that is associated with mental illness and helping teenagers cope with the hardships of life.
- Thanks so much for your time. Let our audience know how they can stay connected with you.
I can be contacted through my website WWW.debbieredmond.com
Or I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org