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. Couldn’t rock the boat.
Around 2006, having just been diagnosed with post-partum depression after the birth of my daughter, and forced to look at myself in the mirror for the first time, I eventually 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. It felt good to talk. It felt good for others to listen, to understand. 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. That feeling of guilt.
Fast forward to today, where I am still recovering from a well documented extreme tumultuous period in my life to say the least, involving misdiagnosis, suicidal depression, manic highs, and a bizarre year in Las Vegas. Lets just say everything has been ramped up in a big way today as far as how I feel about speaking out, sharing our stories, etc. Olympian turned escort turned mental health advocate. A journey I sure never saw coming. But as a result, I do believe my story became more worth sharing. Perhaps that sharing 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 my doing so does for others. Sharing helps others understand, creating empathy, reducing stigma. That’s all good in my book.
I enjoy speaking, and have done quite a bit of it since the book release. I have a stump speech if that’s your preference, but I also enjoy a conversational engagement where I am essentially interviewed on stage. This tends to offer a more flexible format where questions and answered can be more tailored to a specific audience, and there is a good deal of audience interaction.
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 check the testimonials you will find at this website. And please use the “Contact” option at the bottom of this page to get in touch.
What They’re Saying
Suzy was the featured speaker at our Nami CCNS gala this year, and she was wonderful. From the moment she arrived, she captivated everyone with her smile and friendliness. During the evening before her speech, she interacted with the guests, answering questions and sharing laughs. When she spoke, you could have heard a pin drop as everyone stopped talking to their guests to hear her unbelievable story.
Suzy is beautiful, both inside and out. Her presence at an event will make the evening spectatular. Five stars for Suzy!!
Suzy Favor Hamilton was the keynote speaker for the Community Education Day hosted by the Lindner Center of HOPE on May 7, 2017. Her courageous remarks about her struggle with bipolar disorder and her honestly in recounting its impact on her life made an enormous impression on the 360 people in the audience. As a mental health professional, I was humbled by the power of her words and her passionate advocacy to conquer stigma. It was an honor to meet her.
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.
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!
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!