Mental illness, it could be you

shadows of the past may come alive to help us be better people

“Hi,” the woman said shyly.  “I’m calling about a butterfly garden.  I saw your ad in the paper.”

More than a decade has gone by since I received that phone call.  I still remember how I felt.

“I live on a fixed income due to a disability,” the woman added.  “I was wondering if I could get a small butterfly garden and how much that would cost.”

I remember how I felt then, but the way I feel now is much more powerful.  I feel terrible about the way I handled that call.

The woman told me where she lived.  I had heard of the place, but didn’t know much about it.  I knew only that the people who lived there had some type of mental problems.

I talked with my gardening mentor who encouraged me to go see the woman.  I wish I had taken his advice.  I can’t remember who else I consulted with, but I was most certainly influenced in the other direction.

The woman called several times telling me how much she loved butterflies.  I told her the price for a small garden.  She explained that she received her check each month and asked if she could make monthly payments.

People said things like, “those people who live there are crazy,” and I vaguely recall one person telling me that I would be making a mistake to get involved with someone like that.  I concluded that the woman wouldn’t be able to pay like she said she would.  I assumed several things that today I am not proud of.   I chose not to meet with her.

As I write, I really can’t believe that was me.

I wasn’t going to write about this memory when I began this post, which is one of my many challenges in writing.  I’ll start a story or some type of tale and the next thing I know, I’ll be back in time, ten or twenty years into my past.

I wanted to tell you about my dream of creating a healing garden for people fighting and living with mental illness.  A place for healing and community to happen.

I wanted to tell you about an outdoor bed of hay framed with sunflowers and chocolate cosmos laced around the pillow shams.

Sometimes the past meets the present and I get lost somewhere in the middle.

The apartments where the woman lived is a thriving community today, as it was when she called me all those years ago, back when life was much easier for me.  Back when I thought the problems those people had would never be ones I would face.  Oh no!  Not me or my family.

I was terribly wrong and completely ignorant.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.  It can strike any person, any family and in any place.

Ten years after I turned down the woman’s beautiful and brave request, I found myself at the same apartment building where she had wanted her little butterfly garden.

I was there applying for my adult son to get an apartment in that community.

I had forgotten about that phone call until one day when I went to visit my son there.  Several of his neighbors came outside.  We walked around the building together finding many places where we could plant, of all things, a butterfly garden.  The memory slapped me in the face.

I realized that my son was one of those people.

My bright intelligent son who had superior verbal skills by age three, was a good student other than talking too much from being bored, was in a grand way always enthusiastic about life, winning school awards in science and later in kayaking, was struck with a mental illness.

Today, I am a woman who must sometimes say, “I live on a fixed income due to a disability.”  

Today, I realize, I am one of those people too.

Turns out we are all the same and always were.  The differences I imagined came from cultured misconceptions of immunity derived from ignorance and stigma.

Thank you for visiting my blog,


14 responses to this post.

  1. Beautiful Post !!!!!! Would you mind if i put a link to this on my blog?



    • Hi Fiona, No, I don’t mind at all. Am glad you liked the post! Thanks.

      I also enjoyed a quick visit to your blog. Am tired, but hope to visit you again. Good luck to you in your journey! I wish you many good days!




  2. This post is extremely well written, honest, and heart-felt. And you are so right, about all of it. Thank you for sharing it.



  3. What a powerful post. Today, I am trying to figure out what to do with my own depression. You have somehow given me the strength to call someone tomorrow. I need some help. Thank You dogkisses!



    • Hi Mo,
      I’m so sorry to hear you are having a hard time. I hope you find someone to help you. I have a wonderful therapist. I’ve missed some appointments lately, but I went the other day and it really helped. And, if you have to see a doctor, I hope she or he may offer some relief.
      Depression will fool you into thinking all you have to do is… and our minds come up with whatever that might be.
      Sometimes we really do need a little help from our friends, (therapists and doctors).

      Peace and Blessings to you,



  4. Thanks for this post. It brought tears to my eyes.



    • Hi Rossa,

      Thank you for reading. I hope you didn’t mind the tears. Someone recently told me that our bodies release chemicals through tears.

      Peace to you,



  5. hiddenlives –Thank you for reading my post and taking the time to comment. I always love reading what you have to say. It really is a treat and a blessing.

    It seems like it ought to have been twenty years ago that I was planting those gardens. So much has happened and so many things have changed for me and about me.

    The place I wrote about is a wonderful place. It has all the amenities anyone would want and was built to be Eco-friendly. There is a strong sense of community happening there.

    My son doesn’t live there anymore, largely as a result of the stigma he experienced when he told people where he lived. He was surprised how people reacted and frankly, so was I. Running into his old friends they would be very happy to see him, but when he told them his address, everything changed. Only one of them would visit. The rest of his childhood friends abandoned him and their relationship. My son, like many young men in his position, has had to make new friends.

    As I’ve realized and revealed, I’ve been on the other side of that fence. I’ve had to walk in shoes that I never thought I would or could possibly ever be in.

    I guess, with this post, it is an attempt to speak to people who are not suffering or have a loved one who suffers from a mental illness.

    Thanks for inspiring me to write more in this reply,




    • You inspire me to do better.

      Thank you for your gifts of insight and your willingness to share it. I admire what you’re doing both in care for your son and in bringing the issue of stigma to light.




  6. Thank you for your lovely post. I too have a son with a severe MI and I am chronically depressed. I haven’t yet been able to fully come to terms with the way life has played out, but I’m working on it.



    • Thanks Nancy. I enjoyed a visit to your blog.

      I’m sorry for the sadness and grief that you know. Some people say life is only as hard as you make it. I don’t know where that come from, but I must say, I don’t agree. Life, for some people, is just plain hard. Being sick is hard. Loving someone, esp., a child who is sick is hard.

      Blessings and Peace to you and your family,



  7. What a brave and helpful post! You are not alone in regretting a past self, but you’ve just done the best thing one can do – used it to teach.

    You’ve done a great service to many in this; those who are diagnosed, those who are not but suffering, and those who think of “those people” as something other than themselves.

    From one with her own feet of clay,



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