Remembering My Mother’s Gifts by Christopher Stone Growing up, I had the “picture perfect” childhood. My dad worked all week but still made time to throw the ball around when he got home. He would even fill in for the preacher on Sundays when the pastor was out of town. Meanwhile, my mom taught Sunday school and would substitute teach at my school. She always had the incredible ability to make people feel, deep down in their bones, that they were important — that they mattered. It’s easy to tell people that they matter or that things are going to “be ok,” but it is rare to make people truly feel it. When people were around my mom, they knew that they weren’t alone and that no matter how bad their hard time was, they would make it through to the other side and be better for it. My mom had a gift. She was a light in a world that often feels dark. I was in the seventh grade when my mom faced her first real battle with mental illness. But, as far too many people know, when you are in a fight with mental illness, it’s not a “one and done” kind of thing. Over the next several years, we fought with this condition as it slowly dimmed that light that my mom had. We fought while the woman with this special ability to make people feel seen, heard and cared for lost the ability and insight to know that she was worthy of those things herself. It’s just doesn’t seem fair, really, that her gifts — the things she was born to share with other people — are the things she lost sight of about herself. In 2004, my mom lost her battle with mental illness and took her own life. Sadly, her mental illness kept her from seeing just how many people loved and cared about her — and continue to do so. My mother was beautiful, smart and confident. She was caring and kind. She did not “look like” someone with mental illness. The fact is, many people don’t. People who love fiercely and are loved fiercely in return can be the ones struggling with their mental health. The beauty in my mother’s story is that she continues to have a positive impact on people’s lives because her experience continues to resonate with many. Mental illness is a formidable foe. For my mom, it robbed her of her ability to be able to receive the very gifts that she was blessed to give. It made her feel alone. It made her feel hopeless. But she wasn’t. Neither are you. We live in a divisive time, but we are all in this thing together. Mental illness is a human condition, and we must end the stigma around the conversation by treating it as such. It isn't about numbers, it's about people. I truly believe that we can erase this stigma and help the many people who desperately need it.