Today marks 2 years since Joseph went home. How in the world has it been 2 years when it still feels like I saw you just yesterday. Last month, was Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought it would be appropriate to share a little of Joseph’s story. He’s the catalyst that brought us to purchasing The Manor in the first place.
Joseph began struggling when he was 17 years-old. Through a series of events, he began to exhibit odd behavior that would continue to escalate. My parents along with Joseph, Nick and Arielle had moved to Arizona for a short season and then on to Utah. He had started seeing a therapist here before he left and continued in Arizona. Dealing with a mental illness for the first time was terrifying for my parents, my siblings and Joseph especially.
While they were living in Utah, Joseph reached a crisis point and was ultimately hospitalized. Side note, the mental health system in Utah is really amazing and we were grateful that he was there when his crisis happened. Joseph was hospitalized in two different places for about 6 weeks. He went through psychological testing and the diagnosis wasn’t clear…auditory hallucinations, feelings of grandeur, and ADD. My parents dove in headfirst with his medications, treatment, and therapy.
Joseph made a trip back to VA the summer after his crisis point and he felt at peace back at the church he grew-up in and through his connection with Gavin. Gavin became his buddy, he was about 18 months-old at the time but they had shared a connection from the beginning since they shared a birthday. Through this trip, they decided to move back home and I will forever be grateful.
Over the next 8 years, we would ride the waves with Joseph. As a family, we normalized his illness and openly talked about the voices. At any point, you might hear one of us, including the kids, asking Joseph, “How are the voices today?” And he would respond, “Quiet or loud or muffled.” Sometimes, when they were really bad, he wouldn’t be able to respond. He wouldn’t be able to hear you.
Joseph’s illness had a cycle and we never knew when it would start or end. He would feel on-top-of-the-world and his adrenaline would pump and he would have to run or walk a lot and then they would start to attack him and say horrible things and he would end up terrified and paranoid. The cycle lasted anywhere from a week to 3 weeks and at the end of it the doctors would heavily medicate him and then he would spend the next 3 months trying to work back to functioning. The drugs would basically knock him out until they could dull the voices. He did this 1-2 times a year.
During all of this, Joseph still managed to live an amazing life as the most determined, stubborn, persistent person I have ever known. He followed his passion with cars, learned the trade and held down a job while struggling. He followed his passion to DJ and spun tunes for youth every Wednesday night and unbeknownst to us supported the kids and doled out wisdom and advice every week. He spent countless hours with his nieces and nephew and built ziplines in the yard, made mixes with them, played video games and any other thing they could dream up. He was my brother Nick’s best friend and they had multiple adventures and business ventures together. Joseph was an entrepreneur and when he wanted something, he would figure out a way to make it happen. He helped me with my design/event business in all sorts of ways and never told me no. He helped my parent’s with the catering company by running a million errands, cooking, and loading. One really crazy day, my mom had sent him to the store like 7 times and the last trip he was like, “Uggghhh, this is the last trip,“ with a smile on his face.
We took countless trips together as a family and we didn’t let the voices win over life and experiences.
It was amazing and we are so grateful for every moment we had with Joseph but it was hard to. There is a story behind some of our most amazing pictures because he was struggling. He would cycle the gamut of emotions and we would to. There were moments of fear, anxiety, worry, and stress. And in the darkest moments, paralyzing uncertainty about the future and what it would look like.
Joseph’s quiet strength and dignity that he fought with will forever be an inspiration to us and those that knew him. His courage and tenacity in the face of fear was the stuff legends are crafted from.
I have seen a lot of posts this last month about the suicide hotline and NAMI. They are truly amazing resource and while I applaud those that drop the number in their facebook feed and I don’t doubt that it has helped people, it’s not enough.
Joseph’s psychiatrist would tell Joseph all the time that most of her patients don’t have a family or friends that support them and it would break my mom’s heart every time.
The truth is that almost all of us have been touched by mental illness or suicide in some form or fashion. It’s an illness that doesn’t discriminate, further evidenced by the countless celebrities that have taken their lives.
I completely understand how hard it is to relate, empathize and be there for someone with a debilitating illness that defies logic, changes their personality, and affects every aspect of their lives and relationships.
I heard someone say, “Treating mental illness is like trying to shoot a ghost in the dark.” I can’t think of a better way to frame-up how we felt and how the many therapists and doctors we met over the years that treated Joseph felt. The meds are a band-aid with long-term side-effects and we don’t know enough about the brain to truly cure or treat. Mental illness is real, ugly, dark and hard.
If you are someone who is already showing up for someone, keep at it. They need us. They need our support, unconditional love and acceptance and our help. The need to be reminded they are loved not just by us but their Heavenly Father, they are wanted and needed and we are here to walk the journey with them. And if they don’t respond just keep showing up because when the darkness clears you’ll be so glad you were there.
If you’re someone who has been supporting and showing-up for a long-time and your weary please know it’s worth it and while you may not see the whole story yet, you are a central part and so important and needed.
And to those of you that are struggling, please know you are loved, your life has purpose and we need you. If you’re contemplating suicide, it’s not worth it. If the voices or feelings are trying to convince you that your loved ones would be better off without you, it’s just not true. Your valued and needed.
I say all of this to say that, “Yes, the journey was hard but we would give anything to have Joseph back and still be walking with him.” Instead, we will be walking out his legacy, full of courage and hope for the future, and loving on everyone that comes through our doors.