May 09, 2014

The Kentucky Derby is called “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” It’s attended and watched by over 100,000 people each year, and even if you weren’t watching this past Saturday when it was run, you probably know at least a few facts about the derby. You almost certainly know it’s a horse race and that there’s a starting line and a finish line. You’d know that the race is run on a track. Everyone likely knows that the fastest horse and jockey crossing the finish line is the winner, and that there’s a fair amount of betting on who will be the winner.

That’s about all I know about the Kentucky Derby, but I do know a lot about mental illness and it’s no Kentucky Derby. There is, however, a starting line. Sometimes the start is hard and fast when psychosis hits. Sometimes it starts like a slow moving fog that fills the brain. But, when mental illness starts everything changes and you’re left running for your life.

Unlike the derby’s racetrack at Churchill Downs, our track is never flat or level. The race cannot be run fast. There is no fast way to recover. It is a slow grind on an uneven ups and downs track with curves and blind spots. There are often multiple hospitalizations. Some people have periods of homelessness or are wrongfully jailed. Some of us lose friends to violence or suicide. Any one of these common catastrophes could derail a person’s life.

Unlike the horses in the derby, no one would bet money on someone affected by mental illness winning anything. Most people think recovery is a long shot. There is no finish line with the cheering fans, flashbulbs or a big check, and since there is no cure for mental illness, we must always be working on recovery.

Still every day, people living with mental illness and those that love them are winning. There is resilience. There is purpose and a future because we’re not in it alone. It takes love and support from people like friends and family. It takes commitment from mental healthcare providers, non-profit and faith-based organizations. It takes support and resources from community mental health centers, supported housing, employment opportunities and politicians.

These things make us winners. Our wins and successful recoveries have a ripple effect which reaches far beyond our individual lives. Families are made whole. Communities benefit from another engaged person. Wellness wins. My son is a winner, so I’m a winner.

NAMI has an important role to play in recovery. NAMI is people, like you and me, willing to use our experience with mental illness to make a difference. Become involved with NAMI in your community through your NAMI Affiliate and NAMI State Organization. Advocate for people affected by mental illness by becoming involved with NAMI Advocacy. Participate in NAMI education and support programs. NAMI provides opportunities and training so that we can come along beside people with encouragement and engage them in ways that transform lives. You can be part of the NAMI movement by becoming a member and NAMI leader yourself.

No, recovery’s not a horse race. You don’t win it alone, but when you join the efforts of thousands of others moving towards wellness you always win.

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).