From the spring of 1983 when I met my first patient until the summer of 2011 when I began my career as a writer, I loved my work as a psychotherapist. Every time an adult, adolescent, child or couple entered my office, I felt honored. My clients offered windows into new perspectives, kept me open to alternatives, questioning my assumptions, learning from my mistakes. Therapy is hard work, and I’ll always be awed by the courage, perseverance and stark honesty my patients brought to their sessions.
Demi Lovato’s recent overdose is a powerful reminder that mental illnesses — in their many forms — are as real, and potentially as dangerous, as physical illnesses. Both cause pain, sometimes unbearable pain, and deserve validation and respect. Having worked with people as they struggled with emotional issues and mental illness, I’m astonished that the stigma persists.
I wrote my second novel as an antidote to that stigma. Tightwire follows a treatment from three perspectives — the rookie therapist, scrambling to help her patient — the patient, struggling to heal while consumed by anger and hopelessness — the supervisor, guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. As I wrote the story, I hoped that describing the therapeutic process through three lenses would encourage people to rethink the stigma.
In the past, Demi Lovato has spoken about her struggles with mental issues. So have Jon Hamm, Kerry Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Amanda Seyfried, Brooke Shields, Prince Harry, Lady Gaga, J.K. Rowling — and many more. Every time celebrities allow the public to know they struggle with mental illness and emotional pain, they lessen the stigma, pave the way for people to own their issues and reach out for help.
Mental illness is NOT the result of “being soft” or “weak moral fiber” or “lack of discipline” — three phrases I’ve heard repeatedly. That approach enables marginalization, a false sense of protection, an it-couldn’t-happen-to-me distance. I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen to you or to someone you love, just like I wish you a cancer-free life. But the powers-that-be grant nobody exempt status from struggles, mental or physical.
We can all contribute to ending the stigma. We can speak out, offer support, gather information. We can choose to become a mental health professional. We can respect a friend struggling with mental illness. We can respect our own struggles. We can march, donate, raise awareness, write. Tightwire is my voice.
And for Demi Lovato — I hope you find your unique path to healing. I hope you build for yourself an internal and external support system promoting stability, safety, strength and clarity. The road to recovery is rocky and uneven, and I hope you don’t give up. I wish you a journey leading to a healthier way of being you.
Click on the link to read the first chapter of Tightwire.
DO YOU NEED SUPPORT?
If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project Lifeline 866-488-7386
You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.