Years after my brother’s death by suicide in 1999, I finally developed the need to speak about him, his death, about mental illness. But up to that point, I had done what many do. I didn’t talk about it. Those around me didn’t talk about it. We kind of pretended everything was good, and we just kept living our lives. We loved Dan dearly, cared for Dan, but largely didn’t deal with the elephant in the room. To this day, I regret not talking with my brother about his illness, and what he was going through.Today, I have MUCH greater empathy for him.
But back then, I didn’t dare look at myself and the concept of myself having a mental illness. I ran obsessively, had dealt with an eating disorder, had cut my wrists in college, fell in the biggest race of my life on purpose, could not focus for the life of me, was constantly in a state of motion and could not stand still, had trouble with relationships, etc. But I was in complete denial that I might actually have sort of mental illness myself. Those around me weren’t willing to go there. I wasn’t willing to go there. I was a champion runner. I had to live up to my semi-perfect reputation. In reality, I was anything but.
Around 2006, having now been diagnosed with depression, and forced to look at myself in the mirror for the first time, I began to develop the need to talk about my diagnosis, my not so pleasant life experiences ( in baby steps), my brother, his death. Perhaps this was self-serving as it was liberating for me, and I didn’t feel ashamed of my diagnosis. It felt good to talk. It felt good for others to listen, to understand. For the first time, I developed empathy for my brother. I began to realize how difficult it must have been to live in relative silence with regards to his illness. I began touching on these issues in public speaking, in part because it seemed to help others, but it definitely helped me, and at the same time I was trying to honor my brother. Perhaps making up for my silence, if ever so slightly, when he was alive.
Fast forward to today, where I am still recovering from what would be a well documented extreme tumultuous period in my life to say the least, involving misdiagnosis, suicidal depression, manic highs, a year in Las Vegas, etc. Well, lets just say everything has been ramped up in a big way as far as how I feel about speaking out, sharing our stories, etc. Olympian to escort to mental health advocate. A journey I sure never saw coming. But as a result, I do believe my story became even more worth sharing. Perhaps sharing my story will help someone else as it certainly has me. Sharing has been painful sometimes, and a little scary, but at the same time liberating and healing. I know when others share their journeys, it makes me more likely to share mine, so hopefully that’s what this does for others. Sharing helps others understand, creating empathy, reducing stigma.
I enjoy speaking, and have done quite a bit of it since the book release. If you are at all interested in having me speak, to share my story and my ongoing journey of recovery, please don’t hesitate to use the “Contact Suzy” option at the bottom of this page.
“We were blessed to have Suzy as a keynote speaker for one of our events where – with wisdom, compassion, and authenticity – she shared her story of living with bipolar disorder and her journey through recovery. Her message is a powerful one: we must have hope and recognize that the key to recovery is a society that seeks to understand and tries to engage individuals by meeting them where they are in their illness. Thank you, Suzy!”
-Lindsay Wallace, Executive Director – National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Dane County
“Mental health impacts all of us in one way or another. Suzy Favor Hamilton is able to deliver a story and a message that leaves her audience recognizing the need for compassion and understanding as well as advocacy. At first blush, not many people would say they are impacted by mental illness but after hearing Suzy’s message, you can’t help but realize that family members, colleagues and children in our schools need and deserve support and services to manage, just like any other illness. Suzy is humble, relatable and certainly genuine in how she talks about the impact her illness has had on those she loves. She compels us all to not ignore the signs and to be a partner with those who are suffering so they get the services they need. Our audience was captivated by Suzy!”
Tammy Gibbons – Association of Wisconsin School Administrators
“Suzy is an excellent speaker whose easy-going manner, unique story narrative, and considerable personal appeal hold an audience’s attention throughout. Even in a large setting, she comes across as a friend or neighbor, with a relaxed, approachable, honest, and open manner about all her strengths and flaws. She quickly breaks down barriers between her and her audience, taking that audience through both the highs and lows of her life’s story – including the challenges she faced as a youngster that helped lead to her career in running, as one of the world’s top competitive runners, and as a woman coming to terms with her mental health challenges while being outed for her secret life as a Las Vegas call girl. She doesn’t ever flinch from the tough questions that arise from her narrative. Instead, she addresses them in a straightforward and engaging way, with doses of both humor and good spirit when appropriate. As a result, she is ultimately someone to whom a general audience can relate and for whom it can root – because she offers a real, ongoing, and believable narrative of recovery and achievement that is especially meaningful for those who face their own mental health challenges.“
Paul Gionfriddo – President & CEO Mental Health America