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I am Mental Illness

I am Mental Illness


Written by: Bradley Jean

“The thing about ice bergs is…you only see 10 percent.” Big Fish

The movie Big Fish featuring Ewen McGregor is on the top of my favorite movies list. I love the whimsy, the wild story-telling and the sweet sense of love weaved into the movie, but my favorite piece of the film is the quote about ice bergs…you only see 10 percent.

The same rings true for life and especially people. We see a very small portion of a person from whom they actually are. We see 10 percent; the other 90 is hidden from view. We don’t know the details under the surface.

We keep the details covered up, or we gently and fearlessly reveal them in hopes to help someone else, or even greater, help ourselves.

Nothing rings truer here than that of mental illness. The recent passing of Kate Spade and many others on the news and in our communities is heavy.

Is this what mental illness always looks like? It is a scary reality, so many questions and so much silence.

We need to paint a different picture of mental illness. We need conversation and open minds and open hearts. We need new eyes to lead us and it can start with one, brave soul.

Susan Canaan is breaking the silence while living with mental illness.

She is a devoted and loving mother and wife. She holds a good job with Auburn University. She is fighting every day for health and wholeness. She is also breaking down walls in hopes to help save others.  

Susan says, “If it can be me, it can be anybody. I am mental illness. I am the one in five.”

This is Susan’s story…

Susan has been living with mental illness for over 10 years. She was diagnosed at the age of 29, just seven months after her wedding day.

“I got to feeling really down and it was interfering with my life and my work. I was happy then sad, happy, then sad. I knew something wasn’t right, but I kept brushing it off… I didn’t want to admit that something was wrong. I was thinking it was the stress of getting married. (My husband) Sean and I had never lived together. He finally said ‘You’ve got to see somebody, this isn’t normal.’ ”

Susan finally gave in and vividly recalls receiving her diagnosis.

“I remember looking at Sean and telling him it was okay to leave. I told him ‘I know this is more than what you bargained for.’ He took my hand, looked at the doctor, and said ‘What do we do?’”


Susan was immediately put on a treatment plan, which included prescription medication and appointments to see a therapist. The doctor was very up front about hardships she was facing.

“They are the ones that told me that it’s very common. One in five people have mental illness. It’s more common than heart disease, but no one talks about it. They never made it sound like your world is coming to an end. They put me on medicine, and referred me to a therapist.”

Following her diagnosis, Susan says all the fears and concerns set in.

“I went through a dark time when I thought I wasn’t going to have a family or I’m not going to have a job, I’ll be living with my parents… My biggest fear was people not liking me or not wanting to be near me. But it’s all related to the lack of education of mental health.”

Susan spoke of the distorted and unspoken language behind mental illness. We often use words like “crazy” or “a little off” and point fingers when we don’t even know the person or their situation. Even more, we remain quiet or blind to the matter, as to not disrupt our pretty, polished society.

After having lived with mental illness for nine years, last summer, Susan decided to end the silence and tell her truth.

“I felt like I was dying inside, carrying this secret. People thought they knew me but they really didn’t. I had this identity and no one knew who I really was. I feared that if we didn’t look right on the outside, people would know I had a mental illness and they would judge me. Then I finally said ‘you know what, I’m not afraid anymore.’ “

Susan started a blog, A View Through a Different Window, and her first ever post was titled “I have a Secret…” She took a leap of faith and in just a few sentences, exposed her true self.

On July 29, 2017, Susan wrote, “I hope that by being transparent I can help others who may be suffering silently…Mental illness is no different than any other illness and shouldn’t be treated any differently.”

Susan is determined to break the negative stigma behind her illness.

“I’m just like everybody else, I just happen to have a mental illness. Mental illness looks like me. It’s not what people think it is. Is my day to day different than anyone else? No. I take care of my kids, I have a job, I take care of our home.”

Susan is even more driven to help others, so they too don’t have to live in fear or silence.

“I have the power to make someone else’s life better. I have the power to help others to not have to suffer in silence. I suffered in silence for over 10 years, and somebody else doesn’t have to do that anymore. Others have me now. I can stand there with them and say I have been through this. I am someone who lives this day in and day out. We can do this together.”

Susan has already been able to reach out and help others. She recently held an organized race called 'Be the Light.' It was meant to raise awareness and funds for East Alabama Mental Health, a local organization assisting in the care of patients from lower income families.


One of the greatest details of her story is maintaining her health through her medication and staying connected with her doctors. Susan has not missed a single dose of her medicine since her diagnosis.

“I’m fully aware that taking my medicine every day is what makes me healthy. I see my therapist on a regular basis. I see my doctor on a regular basis and I stay in close contact with him. There are a lot of people that feel like all of a sudden they feel good and they just stop taking their medicine. They think ‘oh I’m cured’.  There is no cure for mental illness. You can cope with it, you can be in remission, you can live with it, but there is no cure.”

Susan also says her health is greatly influenced by her support system. She calls her care by her family an ongoing project.

“I can tell Sean in a text that I’m having a rough day, and he will take care of everything the rest of that day. He’s very in tune of what’s going on and doesn’t ignore me. It’s not just Sean and I, my parents are involved, Sean’s family is involved, and everyone is involved in my care. If there are any changes, we consult everyone, because we all work together for my health. Any hour of the day I can call or text someone and they are going to help me.”



Susan says it is crucial to have people around that understand and want to make you better. She says too having an open dialogue about your illness with those closest to you brings life and healing.

Above all else, Susan credits her wellness and courage to her faith.

“God did not punish me by giving me mental illness, He chose me to bear this cross because I can provide hope for others. I truly believe that. And I would not be where I am 10 years later without Him. I don’t worry anymore. I’m not afraid of what’s going to happen to me or Sean and the kids because I know who holds our future. He knows it all.”

Susan says there is a better life out there than struggling. “All you have to do is get help, and there are so many people out there that want to help you. Call a psychiatrists office. They will help you. The biggest step is walking into a doctor’s office and saying something isn’t right.”

Mental illness doesn’t have to be secrets and tragedy. It can be overcome and it can be filled with hope. Mental illness can bring life and abundance.

For Susan, mental illness is a family. Her hope is seen in her smiling daughter Calleigh and her silly, little son Sam. Her faith is in her husband Sean, who has never given up on their life together.

Susan’s courage is seen by the world, it teaches us to better love one another and to be brave.

“God loves you right where you are, messy, broken or clean. He has blessed me more than I can ever imagine.”


{Forward&UP} is a mission meant to inspire and encourage women from all over through the telling of our stories and the changing of our hearts. {Forward&UP} is a non-profit, founded on faith and inspired by many.


About the writer: Bradley has a passion for serving others and telling great stories along the way. She owns George's Farmers Market outside of Auburn, AL with her husband and 3 children. Bradley enjoys spending her free-time running, going on mission trips and traveling with her family. Bradley says of her work, "We all have our own broken bits and pieces, but if sharing them and embracing them can build up our hearts and others, then why not?!"

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