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Local Column

Bringing mental illness into the light of day

Early last month, a program at the Egyptian Theater in Dekalb, “This Is My Brave” featured 13 individuals who were willing to go on stage and share with others their battles to overcome mental health problems. Eight of the speakers were from the local area.

Organized by the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board, this program was produced by a nationwide nonprofit that brings a message from those afflicted, in an effort to end the stigma associated with mental illness. The group travels from city to city, helping to create a national conversation about mental-health issues, using stage productions such as the one in DeKalb, as well as through social media.

Those 13 people had to be brave, having the courage to speak in front of an audience of more than 200, many of those having experienced some behavioral-health issues at one time.

That same week I received a book in the mail from Peggy Jo Henry, who now lives near San Diego. She had published her first book that dealt with bipolar disorder two years ago, which I wrote about. Because she was a Waterman High School graduate and a former resident of Malta, I wanted to share her story with people who may have known her. So this is about her second book, a major revision of her first effort, which was flawed in several ways.

Peggy explained the errors in judgement she had made in identifying people and situations in detail which should not have been made public. The first book was “Climb or Descend: the Rantings of an Ex-Air Traffic Controller/Bipolar/Suicide Survivor and a Game.”

She now says, “It should be thrown away.”

The newer version “I’m Up I’m Down: I’m Bipolar/Suicide Survivor with a Game” is a much better read, though I did not find the first part of the book as interesting since it deals with movie titles, songs, documentaries and scores of actors and actresses. They are woven into an internet game.

Episode II, beginning on page 105 and continuing for some 240 pages, contains the real meat about dealing with her mental illness. It is a collection of emails, letters, her personal journal entries and is semi-autobiographical. Her journal entries are as recent as October 2018, when she had to send the manuscript to the publisher.

Peggy has experienced a lot of ups and downs, including being molested as a teenager, losing her job as an air-traffic controller when her bipolar disorder was discovered, getting divorced, attempting suicide, alienating many of her friends and family, plus overspending on a variety of obsessions – most notably neckties, jewelry, shoes, belts and makeup. She says today her excessive spending is under control. But she still has to deal with an affliction that never ends, but can often be neutralized with the proper medication and counseling.

She has had the courage to share her intimate life story with all who want to learn more about behavioral disorders.

BTW: This is My Brave offers a website for people to do their own mental health screening. Go to https://screening.mentalhealthamerica.net.

Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL 60115. An archive of his past columns can be found on his website at www.dekalbcountylife.com.

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