Have you ever wondered how much truth may be found in the statement flight attendants share at the beginning of a flight - the one about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you? Doesn’t that sound like a ‘selfish’ act while others all around you need your help? I’m Kristi Horner, Founder and Executive Director for Courage to Caregivers. We strongly believe that you need to take care of yourself first, in order to be more effective in just about every role you play in your life – spouse, partner, parent, child, co-worker or caregiver.
On a regular day in June of 2010 I got a call from my little brother. And everything changed. He didn’t waste any time in sharing the reason for his call - he was feeling suicidal and wanted to end his life.
While at that moment I didn’t know a lot about how to support someone who was suicidal, I did know enough as a loving big sister to listen – really listen – and ask if he could hold on until I could get to him. I dropped everything, booked the next flight and spent the next two weeks with him and his family trying to sort through the “messiness”. It was clear he hadn’t been managing for a long while.
I, along with my family, became his primary mental and emotional caregivers for the next four years. There were good days and rough days. Being half way across the country didn’t help.
There were countless hours on the phone and more trips as we continued to unravel the mysteries of chronic pain, clinical depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. As long distance caregivers we felt emotionally drained from the support we provided, confused by all the information and misinformation we had and ultimately we felt very much alone. Looking back, it felt like a very long four years ... yet, we all felt he was making progress.
Then, on May 30, 2014 I received a very different call. This time, it wasn’t my brother - it was a detective. This time, my brother had completed suicide.
Again, everything changed. I again found myself on an immediate flight. While there were the immediate ‘tasks’ to attend to, I kept asking myself - Why didn’t he call me this time? Why didn’t he let us help him?
The last three years have changed the course of my life. Our family has poured ourselves into better understanding depression and suicide prevention. Surely some good might come from all this pain? I knew I had to do something with all of this “energy”. I had the idea – for a new nonprofit to support those who are supporting a loved one with mental illness.
Surely there was more we could do for caregivers like us?
I have shared my story countless times – in groups, with friends, at church and at suicide prevention events. I believe that by sharing our story, we bring hope and healing to others.
Every time I have shared my story and discussed my concept for a new nonprofit, I have received incredible feedback. Each time I was encouraged by the comments “I have a friend who needs the services you have described” or “there is a real need to establish a community like you have envisioned” or “I wish I had the resources you mentioned”. While the journey looks hard – and long – I know this venture can make a difference. So, Courage to Caregivers was born! It seems especially fitting that we launch at a depression awareness and suicide prevention event for LifeAct. There are lives to be helped and I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to empower caregivers who love someone with mental illness.
Walt Disney said “all our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”.
Kristi Horner, Founder and Executive Director for Courage to Caregivers