Mental Illness: Hidden, but begging to be seen

Mental Illness - Karen Bannister


On this blog I discuss a lot about abuse, shame, recovery and finding your path as a Woman, Single Parent and Entrepreneur warrior. The reason I share my own vulnerability is always to leave the door wide open for others to share their pain, their struggles, their growth and their path as they evolve past the stigma and learn to love themselves more and more each day.

It is particularly beautiful to be given a window into the day of a person who you might think ‘has it all together’ or is a ‘busy business person’ or ‘active mom’ – the external picture paints an idea, but it is the one that most of us feel is acceptable, it doesn’t tell the whole truth.

The truth is begging to be seen, the time is now. As we embrace online campaigns such as #metoo we start to own our recovery and we begin to empower our pain and let it see the light of day so that we can begin our healing.

The story below is written by a mom who wants to share a Beautiful Gift with you – the gift of her truth, the reality and the RAW of her daily existence. May you find some connection in this to realize that you are not alone. You are not ‘overly sensitive’ or in my opinion, even mentally ill. You are responding to the world around you as you should – the intuitive, feminine energy is coming into power and the societies we live within do not support us and we are starting to see it. Embrace your discomfort and know that you are part of the evolution of Women. Be powerful in your choice to speak clearly about your reality and your discomfort, for that truth will bring about the global change that we all long for.


A Beautiful Gift

Karen Bannister

I can mark the passage of time by the length of my son’s limbs. He is nine years old now and his body no longer fits in the crook of my arm. It’s long, beautifully like his father’s, thoughtful and filled with contemplative emotion. Being a mother means flying close to the sun; approaching the raging beauty of light, immense power and transformative energy, getting too close, some days, feeling burned and burnt out.

My son’s birth marked the emergence of motherhood in me. It also brought the crashing torment of mental illness. In the first months of his life I got to know the sharp edges of depression – the indulgence in darkness, the grief of mourning the loss of myself, sleep deprivation that tricked my mind into seeing things non-existent, a fly so close to the sun many nights sent me into a tailspin. I cried on bathroom floors, I crawled up stairs, I spent whole days in bed, unable to move while my mother-in-law cared for my son in rooms below me. Her soft chatter another world, a world where people were happy by birth and new life, not rendered immobile by sadness and anxiety.

And since those first days, along my decade-long journey through illness, I have had many more hours tucked into the oppressive comfort of my comforter. Nights woven into my own torment, screaming at my family or ignoring my husband, days when I could barely function in the real world, but still slapped a smile on my face and put two feet in front of the other.

∼ I am a mother. And I live with mental illness. You have seen me. I walked by you in the parking lot, holding the hands of my youngest two children. Outside I was smiling, talking, engaging with them and the world around me as we ran errands and made big plans. Inside my heart thudded, my mind raced, my breath caught like gasps in my throat: panic attack. You didn’t know.

∼ I was the one in that meeting recently; my hair neat and brushed, eyeliner applied to my lids. I wore dress pants and dress shoes and gave you calming words of confidence so you could easily hand that budget, that project, that reliance over to me. You didn’t know.

∼ I was at the party, but didn’t stay long. I smiled at you when we were introduced and asked you questions about your life. I took a long sip of wine, but left quickly thereafter. I think I went home to rest my head on my pillow; loud noises, big crowds unsettle me. You didn’t know.

Often I struggle to articulate the finest feelings of my illness; I can’t tell you how it feels to be split open by thoughts and emotions that leave me immobile with fear. I can’t quite paint that picture of the energy drain that follows multiple panic attacks over several hours, or what it is like to be sound-sensitive in a family of three loud children. And sometimes my inability to articulate what is going on inside of me has handicapped my discussions with doctors and medical professionals. Their inability to see past their own human experience has handicapped their chances of really helping me.

I had a doctor miss my statements of struggle, and insist instead that my problems were parenting ones. I had a doctor tell me “people like you hurt their children.” I had a doctor, letting silence linger between us, who finally concluded, “I can’t help you.” I had a doctor tell me I had a “stress problem” and suggest I “get more help at home.”

I cannot and do not wish to will my children away. I cannot and do not wish to will their needs, their voices, their excitement for life, away. I do not wish to go back and time and erase their very being – the tangle of limbs and ecstasy that created them in the first place. And I do not want to nor can I ever wish my illness away. It has given me glimpses into surreal beauty; that is the sharp and blurred line between sanity and insanity. I cannot reconstruct my life so I never feel the heart pull of stress, or overwhelm and I have already chosen a mate who would walk to the edges of the earth barefoot to help me. I cannot erase the hardness in my life, nor do I want to let go of the trouble. Instead, I work hard everyday to overcome what I cannot control, and to hopefully teach, as I learn to lean into words that describe mental illness, what it is like to live with these demons.

I do not seek sympathy nor concession. But I do want my children to grow into a world that accepts difference, where people lead with compassion and stop to ask and truly listen: how are you today. What can I do to help? How can I be a better person to you?

People don’t understand mental illness. My beautiful gift is to show them what it means, and what it means to truly help those of us in danger of drowning in it.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you.

Karen Bannister Headshot

Karen has written about topics in health and wellness professionally and for fun for over a decade. She is a published author and ghostwriter whose work has appeared online in MindBodyGreen, Huffington Post, and Today’s Parent. In 2007 she co-authored and published a book about disability and communication. Karen keeps a day job as a marketing professional in the tourism industry and is a proud mother of three children. She lives on Canada’s West Coast. You can learn more about her writing by visiting her at You can e-mail her directly at karen(at)


Please leave questions/comments for Karen in the comment section below! 


  1. Eva@RadicalRelaxationCentral says:

    Hey Karen,

    It is crazy that the doctors who you turned to for help treated you so terribly. What happened to “first, do no harm”? It is a wonderful gift to explain your depression because it is such a poorly understood condition. I suffered from depression for years without a diagnosis because I thought depression was just being sad (my main symptom was actually anhedonia, not sadness). People read stories about depression in the news, but it can take several stories before they actually “get” it. I hope that you continue to spread your story and raise awareness, in both the general population and the medical community.

    Thanks for the great post!

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