Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of

Jeff Burkhead News & Notes

Mary Brand comes from a big family. She is one of nine siblings.

“Because I’m right in the middle, I tell them I am the most stable,” she said. “And that makes them laugh.”

Even though Brand has a mental illness, she still has her sense of humor.

“When people make the comment, you’re crazy, I’m like, I know I am. I have the papers to prove it,” Brand said. “Humor is a coping mechanism for me. It helps me to keep things on the lighter side.”

Brand doesn’t allow her mental illness to define her as a person.

“Mental illness is not something to laugh about, but nor is it something to be ashamed of,” she said.

Brand grew up in Lawrence and followed in her dad’s footsteps and became a pharmacist. Now 67 and retired, Brand didn’t find out about her mental illness until later in life. She was in her mid-50s when her world turned upside down.

“It was 2006, that’s kind of when all of this happened,” she said. “I had memory issues and anxiety. It was really weird; it just came out of the blue.” Brand stepped down as a pharmacist in 2006, the same year she was diagnosed as having bipolar dis-order. It was also the same year she started coming for services at the Bert Nash Center.

“Bert Nash has been tremendously helpful, just getting me some help and getting me stabilized and regulated,” Brand said.

Things started spinning out of control when Brand was involved in a car accident. Another one.

“I used to have a lot of wrecks,” she said. “I totaled three cars. My daughter said, mom, there must be something going on. As we found out, it was when I was manic and I would speed. I used to get speeding tickets all the time. I was lucky all the wrecks were just me, no one else was involved. I didn’t know I was manic. I just thought I had a lot of energy those days. I didn’t think I was being over the top.”

It was after the accident, and when it had been a particularly stressful time in her work as a pharma-cist, that her life went off the rails.

“I had a meltdown,” Brand said. “My boyfriend at the time knew something was wrong. He called one of my sisters and said he was going to take me to the emergency room at LMH and could she meet us there. We talked with a therapist. They recommended I go to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka. I volunteered to go.”

Brand stayed at Stormont Vail for 10 days. After she was released, she started coming to Bert Nash. She went through the dialectical behavior program. Her daughter and son and some of her siblings came to some of the family sessions.

“I have had a lot of support from family and friends, including two best friends who also have a mental illness, plus I had the insurance coverage that allowed me to be hospitalized,” Brand said. “I’m one of the lucky ones that had those things.”

Looking back, Brand is grateful for the help she has received.

“I don’t know where I would be if it hadn’t been for Bert Nash,” she said.