Thankful for Mariah

Opinion: Dan Haley

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

I tend to work a lot of hours. So last January when Mariah, our teenage daughter, hit a wall of pain and anguish and asked us to take her to an in-patient psychiatric facility, I wanted to say something to my colleagues here about why I'd be in and out of the office so much.

And with Mariah's permission and my wife Mary's OK, I sent an e-mail to the staff explaining the situation. Now a fair number of people around here have known Mariah since she was brand new. And since she was doing the mail here at the office after school, a lot of our newer folks knew her, too.

I wasn't surprised then by the empathy, support and caring I found in the responses we received. This is quite a remarkable company we have, and I knew people would envelop us with their thoughts and prayers and actions.

What astounded me then, but no longer does, was the number of colleagues who came to me and wrote to me about mental health issues in their own families. For some it is their kids, or siblings, spouses, children of best friends. It was immediate and raw and soothing, scary and reassuring. It was and it is an epidemic. And by acknowledging that depression and anxiety and eating disorders had visited our door, it was some sort of permission to let the stories loose. It was cathartic for them and certainly for us.

I remember as a kid, my mom told me about a relative, or maybe it was a friend of the family, who had been diagnosed with cancer. It was serious. It was probably going to kill her. And what she told me, and what stuck with me (since I can't even remember who was sick) was: "Don't tell anyone it is cancer." It was to go unspoken.

Today, that is the fix we are in with mental health. The stigma remains. Many cancers are curable. HIV is a chronic disease. Most gays are out of the closet. And we don't talk about schizophrenia or anxiety or depression or suicide or eating disorders. We don't think about locked wards in mental health hospitals or alternative therapeutic schools for our kids.

We should think and talk about it, and since the spring, at least, Mariah has been asking me when I was going to write about all this. It's too personal, I'd say. It's your business, I'd say. And she'd say that other kids and other parents need to know.

Now it is 11 months later. And it has been one hell of a year. Mariah has been in-patient several times, there have been weeks and weeks of day programs and six weeks of full-time residential care. She made valiant attempts to get back to school at OPRF and couldn't do it. And now she is at an alternative school in the far west suburbs, riding the "short bus" each day and making her way. With hard work, good care and love, she'll graduate in June with an OPRF diploma.

It is not assured. But it is possible. And it is what we aim for on strong days and on days when we hit the skids.

Because we don't talk about these things, you likely don't know that there are remarkable people at our high school who work every day to make a way forward for teens like Mariah. There are great therapists. We know one. Psychiatrists. Dieticians. BHAs (behavioral health associates) who somehow make it possible to walk out the door of a locked ward with your kid on the inside. There are brothers and friends and aunts and uncles. Friends on Facebook and a couple of cruel young men on Facebook I'd get to if I could.

We've shouted too often. And we've cried. We've been to the ER. And we have adjusted medications. We've been assessed and we've been evaluated. We've cursed Blue Cross and we've given thanks for good health insurance. We've cut the strings off sweatpants and we've learned to talk about lipids, not fats, in a food plan.

Now it is Thanksgiving. We're all here. And we're talking about it.

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Reader Comments

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maisie hanrahan  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:44 AM

Mariah you are a courageous pioneer and you have a really awesome Dad. Without courageous pioneers necessary change would not occur. You are awesome and many people will benefit from your decision to put yourself or there.


Posted: December 6th, 2013 10:41 AM

Mariah is clearly an amazing person. "Mariah has been asking me when I was going to write about this". Yes, there are things she needs help with. But we must also recognize and celebrate her as someone who has made a commitment to helping others. She is leading the way not only in helping us recognize the challenges people face, but also in teaching us to see and value everyone as an individual, complete and whole in their own way.

Marsha Montgomery Taylor from Oak park  

Posted: December 6th, 2013 10:22 AM

Indeed I am a parent of a child with schizo-effective disorder. She too like Mariah was a OPRF student who barely made it through back in 2000. She is now a 31 year old woman and is now in the hospital as we speak. Her 17 year long journey has taken us by storm. I am a chaplain and I pray for all the young adults who suffer this way. By the grace of God we shall overcome. Love is the catalyst for change.

Felicia from Chicago  

Posted: November 30th, 2013 7:04 AM

Dan, what a beautiful column. I wish you and your family the happiest and safest of holidays and all the best. Mariah sounds like an incredible young lady and you sound like an incredible parent, which doesn't surprise me. Thanks for sharing your story.

Rada I  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 7:27 PM

Happy Thanksgiving and Good Luck to Mariah and all of you! I applaud you for being open and writing about this! I am a physician; I have had similar problems with one of my children and know of several other kids who suffer through the same; I am convinced that unfortunately, mental healthcare in the US is pitifully subpar, no matter what insurance you have. You have a long road in front of you and what you do at home will be far more important to Mariah than what any therapists may offer.

Violet Aura  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 10:45 AM

Dan, thank you for sharing your life with us and best wishes for Mariah. Great piece.

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 10:18 AM

Brave and brilliant.

Laurie Myers from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 10:12 AM

Dan,This is heartbreaking, yet so powerful. Having known you, Mariah, and Mary for many years, I can say you are 3 of the kindest, strongest, and bravest people I know. We feel grateful to have you as neighbors, co-workers and friends. Thank you all so much for your courage and honesty.

Dawn from Chicago  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 10:11 AM

So proud of the Haley family for supporting each other with grace. Mariah is a fine young lady who interns for me at Wednesday Journal. Looking forward to many more summers of working with her.

Don Nekrosius from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 9:41 AM

To Dan and Mariah, Oak Park is a community of diversity and acceptance. None of us is perfect, all of us have known challenges. We get through them by giving our hearts to each other. This sharing of yours opens us to what you've been struggling with. If thoughts and prayers do any good, a lot are coming your way.

Janet Barnstable from Addison  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 9:08 AM

We all commend the family and especially Mariah for wanting the world to know of her struggles. Very simply, another thank you. To the young men on Facebook whom Dan would like to throttle, may I just say it takes much less effort to be kind instead of cruel. Negativity makes YOU a worse individual. To the OP kids who don't fit the mold, I repeat what I said for years: DARE to be DIFFERENT!

Djeena from Forest Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2013 8:19 AM

Thank you for your open and brave writing. And thank you to Mariah for allowing and, in fact, encouraging it. It looks as though she is doing very well and I pray that continues, Mental health issues touch most families. If only everyone had your openness.

Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 11:43 PM

Mariah, Dan, and Mary, your gift of honesty has had more healing effects for many of us than you will ever know. Thank you,

Johanna from River Forest IL  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 10:51 PM

Dan: everyone one involved in this carries their own personal hurt. I feel for Mai rah high school and the studies and the contant overhead challenge of college are difficult enough but to be seeded internally with a hurt you don't know how to heal...and all the paths to health are new and scary is so hard...healing energy for all of you. ...

Mary Lang Judy from Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 8:24 PM

Congratulations to you and your wife on some excellent parenting. Mariah's strength to come forward to ask for help is a reflection of the love and trust she felt in your family. You are most certainly not alone in working through these and other family issues that arise. Please feel free to contact us at RAIN, the Riverside Area Inclusion Network, a group of families working together to support all of our kids through all of life's ups and downs. It takes a village, and we're here for you.

Sharon Daly  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 8:17 PM

Bless you, Dan, for writing this and thank you, Mariah, for sharing. Your struggle touches and inspires so very deeply. The power, to me, is your family moving at it's highest level - engaging all energies to love and heal. There are always great gifts within the struggle. Again, thanks for sharing and healing thoughts to all.

Ruth Craft Martin from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 6:52 PM

Thank you Dan,Mary,and MAriah for sharing.

Kat from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 6:43 PM

Dan, I am so grateful that you wrote about Mariah. My son, who has had his share of challenges, has commented on how difficult it can be to grow up in Oak Park, where everyone is expected to "turn out" in a certain (Oak Park version of successful) way. And for the children who don't fit the mold - and their parents - it can feel isolating to be different. Your letter was brave and welcome. best wishes to your family, and especially to Mariah,

Doug Deuchler from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 5:33 PM

Dan, there is so little that one can say to lighten your load other than anyone who has raised kids through the teen years has been on a roller coaster of hope and horror. Please know you are not alone. But it all gets better. I wipe away tears as I write this. I applaud your openness. As corny and "'60s" as it sounds, love is the answer to such challenges...and you guys have that already. Hang in there.

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 5:24 PM

This brought tears to my eyes. Yes, let's all be grateful for what (and who) we have.

Jill O'Mahony Stewart from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 5:10 PM

Dan: thanks for sharing. This is powerful and very precious. Our thoughts are with all of you. Your neighbor, Jill

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 2:27 PM

Thanks for writing.Mariah is right.Parents & kids do need to know.I went to a very small high school--120 kids total.In my graduating class alone, three close friends of mine,three wonderful young men,all took their lives before any of them reached their 30th birthday.One of them sang at my wedding.More than 20 years later,not a week goes by the I don't think of all three of them,and how none of us kids,parents,or teachers,had any idea how to address,or even identify,their mental health issues.

Laura Arbetman from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 11:29 AM

Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for writing this. I know Mariah from OPRF and Snowball and I am so thankful that she is here and I am so happy for her strength. I am a person who deals with mental illness (my own) on a daily basis. I have been taught to suck it up. Would anyone ever say that to someone with, say, cancer? No. The stigma is real and potent. I and so many others face it on a daily basis. I am so glad that someone is bringing light to this surprisingly common issue!

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 2:01 AM

To Mariah, you are stronger than you know. It takes great strength to acknowledge your vulnerabilities and greater strength to act on it. May your load be lighter and future so much brighter.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 12:08 AM

Dan: Few, if any families manage to escape this pain for more than a generation or so. Mine didn't, and most don't. History is replete with it, through all classes and circumstances. It simply is what it is. The only real distinction between the myriad instances that occur throughout time are how people eventually choose to deal with it. You have chosen to do so frankly. Kudos to you. And God's blessing for the strength you require.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 11:13 PM

Dan - My heart is with you, your family and particularly Mariah. Your willingness to openly discuss the subject of mental health problems in public is an act of bravery and a gift to everyone who has suffered with or dealt with mental heath issues. Hiding the problem does no one any good. Mariah was fortunate. She had parents that she trusted enough to seek their counsel. For thirty years, I have taken medicine for depression. I am not alone. Mental Health problems have run in my family for at least three generations. We have had no catastrophic incidents because we all help, guide, and trust each others. I was able to discover through therapy that I was not at fault. I was born with the problem. Openly discussing the problem is the first step to learning how to manage a very manageable illness.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: November 26th, 2013 10:45 PM

Dan -

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