Sarah Byrne

MENTAL ILLNESS AND THE MASKS THAT DISGUISE IT

How does one rebuild a life after tragedy suddenly hits?

When Sarah Byrne, a valued Ambassador in our Tribe, bravely shared her story with me, I was shocked and saddened.

Yes, I have stood very close to the disease that is mental illness – seen it in its rawest form. So yes, I could immediately connect.

But, no, I am not sure that I would have her strength of character and purpose to pick myself up and carry on so quickly in such a meaningful way…

On March 1st this year, Donnie Byrne stood up from his desk and left the office, unusually and suddenly. Later that night the police arrived at the doorstep to their home to tell his wife that he had committed suicide.

In that one moment Sarah Byrne’s life, and that of her family, was irrevocably changed. And Sarah had to find a way to explain this to their four children.

Sarah now wants to help to battle the stigma of mental illness that plagued her handsome, gregarious, successful and generous husband by sharing his story.

She wants to show that he, like other sufferers, wore a convincing mask that hid his pain.

“My husband put everything and everyone ahead of himself. Donnie’s laugh was louder and more infectious than most. With a quirky sense of humor, he immediately put those he encountered at ease. His hugs – whether to his children, me, a friend, or an 80-year-old stranger – were filled with warmth and sincerity.

He was the life and soul of the party.

He had just completed the most successful year of his already impressive career.

Our family, with four kids ranging in age from 7 to 21, was full, loud and perfectly imperfect.

But, Donnie had also suffered from alcohol addiction and co-morbid anxiety. However, after a number of attempts, he was now clean and sober – and had been for 15 months.

Donnie had found a great psychiatrist and was on medication that seemed to stabilize him. It looked as though we had gotten through the tunnel and could now enjoy the light.

And, finally, I had gotten back the charismatic man that I married.

On the morning of March 1st, Donnie routinely had breakfast and left for the office. We spoke briefly on the phone. At 10am he spoke to his best friend and colleague about a business deal. At 11am he laughed and joked in another colleague’s office discussing business. Then, around 11:30am, he abruptly and uncharacteristically left his office without cleaning up or shutting down his computer.

As a family, we always sat down to dinner at 6pm, but Donnie wasn’t home. His phone was turned off. I was concerned. He always called or texted to let me know if he was going to be late.

At 8pm two men arrived at my door. ‘I am so sorry,’ they said, ‘your husband has taken his own life.’

Time of death: 12:47pm.

My husband wore a mask. I had no idea he was in crisis. He was clean and sober, and, I thought, happy.

We then had the painful process of trying to work out ‘why?’

We believe he started feeling so much better that he felt he didn’t need ‘those drugs’ anymore. We believe he abruptly discontinued his medication without consulting his doctor.

I also believe that my husband felt the stigma attached to mental illness and couldn’t accept his biochemical imbalance. He couldn’t accept his diagnosis as he might have accepted any other physiological disorder.

Because of the stigma, I believe, he felt ashamed.

I never want another person affected by mental illness to feel the need to suffer in silence when treatment is available.

I also never want another child or a family to suffer through (a wrongful) shame.

On my way to grief counseling with my 7-year-old twins, my son asked me if, when he had the talking stick, he could say, ‘My dad died of mental illness.’ His twin sister cried, ‘No! That is so embarrassing.’ How? How does this seep into the mind of a 7-year-old child? We talked at length about the fact that she wouldn’t have been ashamed if Daddy died of cancer or heart disease.

There is no shame in Daddy’s illness – only sadness.”

There is nothing to be ashamed about mental illness.

Sarah admits that going back to work so soon has been very hard. But she wants to have something to underscore her desire and determination to support her family and give her mission to raise awareness deep value. She has chosen to do this through her Get Together Give Togethers, which support Bring Change 2 Mind.

Sarah is so much braver than most. And she got there so much quicker… As a community and a company we are here for Sarah to lean on.

To support Sarah visit: http://bringchange2mind.org/irrevocable-change-sarah-byrne/

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