There was a man who used to run regularly through the streets when we first moved into this city neighborhood 25 years ago. He was a golden bear of a guy huge and hairy. He wore a headband to keep his long blond hair out of his face, along with sunglasses, a low-cut sleeveless tee, and tiny John Stockton-type shorts.
Did I mention the headphones?
He wore those, too, as he ran. And when he ran he growled. Cursed. Shouted. Erupted into sudden screams. He'd be several blocks away and you could hear him coming up the road.
I'll be honest. I was a little alarmed the first time I saw him. What was his deal anyway? But as far as I could tell he never bothered anybody, and after awhile, we barely noticed him.
I'm older now, with a lot more life experience under my belt, and I see this man and his struggles in a different light. I'm not a therapist, of course. But I've speculated about his condition. Is it possible he was hearing voices? Disturbing voices? Were the headphones, the constant running, the strange noises he made an attempt to keep those voices at bay?
If so, I can only applaud the man's tenacity and courage, his attempt to deal with the pain that mental illness can inject into a life.
A lot of mental illness doesn't look like what I've just described. Not at all. It's quieter, more hidden and (on the surface at least) much less chaotic-looking. And yet the suffering it causes your family member, your friend, your neighbor, your co-worker even you can be excruciating. A good friend of our family who is no stranger to physical pain once said that he'd rather pass buckets of kidney stones again than endure another bout of clinical depression.
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Utah Chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I appreciate the organization's ongoing efforts to educate the public, as well as to provide information to individuals and families. The website alone is a valuable resource.
Meanwhile the annual Utah NAMI walk is coming up next month. I plugged the event last year, and I'm doing it again this year, because you know what? It's awesome. And also fun! There's just something really great about getting together on a beautiful autumn day with lots of people who are raising money for a good cause, don't you think? This year's walk will take place at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City on Sept. 29. That means we all have plenty of time to sign up and maybe even put together a team.
In fact, if you're interested in becoming a team captain or think you might be consider attending a kickoff luncheon on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Call or email Amber Watkins at 801-323-9900 or firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday to RSVP.
Meanwhile, remember NAMI's motto: "Treatment works, recovery is possible, there is hope, you are not alone."
Ann Cannon can be reached at email@example.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.