No One Brings Flowers When Your Brain Gets Sick

By Alyse RurianiDecember 22, 2016

This month, we’re looking back on the top 10 blog posts of 2016. This post was originally published on June 2. 

I grew up in a small, tight-knit community. If a crisis happened, the phone would ring off the hook. If someone in your family was sick or died, an endless supply of food would arrive at your house. Whether it was flowers or cards or casseroles, there would always be a visual sign of support when it was needed – except when it came to someone struggling with mental illness.

This is not uncommon. Society often pretends that the brain cannot get sick. And if it does, society tells us it’s a secret that must be kept. That is stigma.

During my several stays in inpatient hospitals or at treatment centers, I saw this play out firsthand. No one called my mother to make sure she was OK, if she needed any dinners prepared, or if she needed a ride to come visit me. No one asked what they could do to help. Some family members and close friends didn’t even know what was happening because my parents didn’t want people to find out I was struggling with mental illness.

To be clear, I’m not blaming people or calling them out for failing to support my family. I’m calling out stigma. Because stigma is to blame.

It was stigma that made my mother feel uncomfortable telling her family that I was having a mental health crisis. It was stigma that made my father tell me that I shouldn’t be telling people about my hospitalizations. It was stigma that made people avoid the whole thing rather than talk about something uncomfortable. It was stigma that did those things.

Thankfully, there were people who fought against that stigma.

There was the friend I met on Tumblr – someone I had never met in person – who sent me flowers to make sure I knew I was loved.

There was the family of a high school friend who sent a card to tell me how much my life mattered.

There was the girl from my parish who sent a typed, 12-page letter detailing a weekend retreat I loved but had had to miss because I was in treatment.

The weight of stigma can crush someone’s hope. It can make them feel as though their story doesn’t matter enough to be told or heard, that there are chapters “too personal” to be shared or that there is darkness the light cannot touch.

But that is a lie.

This is the truth: The entirety of your being matters. Your experience is important. All things heavy and light in our lives deserve to be listened to, deserve to be seen, and deserve to be understood. When life gets tough, we should be there offering support, not avoiding the reality because stigma tells us we should.

So I’m asking you to challenge stigma. I’m asking you to challenge yourself: show up, make a card, or ask about visitation.

There are a million ways to support someone. You just have to choose to do it.

Those times when people broke through that wall and showed their support stayed with me even years later. Those times showed me that hope shines brighter than fear. Those times convinced me that we can defeat the stigma that says we can’t talk about mental illness.

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Comments (14)

  1. Gabriella

    Beautiful! I am a writer too and this was a great post. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

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  2. Rocki Smith

    This is So true ! I grew up in the 70’s and my dad was bipolar manic , I remember my mom telling me and my brother not to tell anyone . I am very open about it now , my daughter has multiple personality disorder and anxiety , and I have depression and anxiety. I wish the world would change

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  3. Patsy Capps

    Very well written…and so very true!! Most insightful!

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  4. Priscilla

    My first stay in a mental health hospital was two hours away. I could talk to my family on the phone but no one was able to visit. The second time was closer to home my coworkers came to visit one day and that made the difference. They brought flowers and notes from other coworkers that couldn’t come. Another time my family came. Some of my moms friends drove me the two hours to the hospital and also stayed with me til 3 am in the emergency room. Having people care means a whole lot when your going through mental illnesss:

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  5. amanda eneas prado

    I really enjoyed your story.

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  6. Mrs Louise Newby

    Thank you for your honesty. I relate all too well to what you have shared. As a parent of an adult child who is married to our son-in-law diagnosed with Primary Progressive (no remittance) MS I have seen first hand the awkwardness and separation of family & friends from our daughter & son’s lives. Never thought they would be considered “different” but actions DO speak louder than words. They have received moral support and help from people they never would have imagined. One thing is true as our family continues in this journey it is this: there is never a good time to help someone. A person must actively choose to do … to help. Saying to someone who is going through a tough time “let me know what I can do to help” when they just heard what was/is going on is a cop-out. I am proud of our daughter and son-in-law as they no longer tell everyone things are “fine”. They politely say “it is tough right now. Brad can no longer feed himself, etc.
    I guess people just don’t know what to do or say because friends rarely if at all call or come by. Their faith has been a blessing as it has and continues to get them through lonely times. It is good you speak out and encourage others. Ignorance is not bliss but hopefully more thoughtful and empathetic with others.

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  7. jill

    “All things heavy and light in our lives deserve to be listened to, deserve to be seen, and deserve to be understood.”. I love this.

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  8. Giromi

    Mi nombre no importa tengo 23 años diagnosticada hace 3 meses con trastorno bipolar , padecido desde hace 10 años , con episodios depresivos marcados , ocultando durante 10 años todo ese dolor y sufrimiento , estudiante de medicina , cleptomana de reciente diagnóstico , hace 3 días intenté suicidarme , a veces me siento tan desesperada y sola..

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    1. Claire Biggs


      We’re so sorry to hear that you’re struggling right now. Have you let anyone know how you’re feeling? Please reach out for help and let them know how they can help you. Please stay. Please keep fighting. Please don’t hurt yourself. Please don’t kill yourself.

      You are important. Your story is important. You are not alone. We’re on your side, Giromi. Please reach out to others in your life – someone you trust – and let them help you.

      If you need resources, we list some here:

      If you can’t find your city on that list, please email us at [email protected].

      Reply  |  
  9. Deanna Cumming

    Your story touched a chord in my heart having gone through similar experiences with my daughter. It is clear that people get uncomfortable when we talk about her BPD, whereas her resulting substance addictions appear to be easier for people to accept. It is a lonely road for people with any kind of mental condition and I make a point of talking about her struggles whenever an opportunity presents itself. I do believe we need a village to raise a child and I am happy that you have that support and are feeling stronger. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  10. Pingback: Always on Sunday (25) | In the daylight…I’m your sweetheart

  11. Carmina

    I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t have some sort of a mental illness. It’s ridiculous that we are so fearful to see it & acknowledge it. Wake up! Accept it, respond to one another in love & support. Send those flowers, take those casseroles. Share & care because we’re all hurting in one way or another.

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  12. barbara

    The stigma needs to be wiped away. Mental illness is an illness that affects so many. Lets all support and love to the people that suffer from this illness. One day the stigma will disappear. We all need to speak up. It would be similar if we kept cancer in the shadows. Cancer is nothing to be shamed about nor is mental illness. Lets end the stigma.

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  13. Brigitte Maria Nilsen

    Loved that post.

    Reply  |  
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