Kathleen ‘Katie’ Marie Shoener, 29, fought bipolar disorder since 2005, but she lost her last battle to mental illness eleven years later.
Katie Shoener is a stranger to me but her story is echoed in many families I know. Her story went around the world in 2016 and caught my attention. Katie’s family freely shares the tragic aspects of her battles and the need to speak up about openness and compassion. In spite of some progress there is still so far to go in supporting families facing mental illness in a loved one. The posts on Katie’s tribute page testify to how widespread and deep the effects of mental illness are. Add to that, the latest report on the alarming rise of mental illness in teen girls.
Fighting to be Happy
Katie’s childhood best friend, Kelly Lamond, said Katie was always looking for ways to make others feel special. She was her friends’ biggest cheerleader, an amazing human.
“Katie woke up every day fighting to be happy,” Lamond said. “It breaks my heart. It makes my heart heavy that she carried that every day.”
Katie received her Bachelor of Science in business from Penn State University and her MBA from Ohio State University. She planned to move closer to her brother and nieces whom she loved.
It was in the spring of Katie’s senior year in high school when she first attempted suicide.
Her father said, “No one came up to me or Ruth and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ If she’d gotten in an accident they would have said kind things, but now everyone knew and no one looked at us, like it was a character flaw.”
“We felt shamed, we felt like maybe we weren’t good parents. They didn’t know what to say. As a society we don’t know how to talk to each other about this. We don’t have a language for how to talk about mental illness.”
The rest of her life was a cycle of therapy, medications and hospital stays. She would stabilize and resume her otherwise full and ambitious life, only to have her bipolar resurface.
“Everyone loved Katie, if you met Katie you couldn’t help but love her. She was vibrant. There’s nothing rational about this illness. Something in her mind told her she was a terrible person and everybody hated her.”
Not My Illness
Overwhelmed by the fatherly pull to protect her, he wrote this:
So often people who have a mental illness are known as their illness. People say that “she is bipolar” or “he is schizophrenic.” Over the coming days as you talk to people about this, please do not use that phrase.
People who have cancer are not cancer, those with diabetes are not diabetes. Katie was not bipolar. She had an illness called bipolar disorder. Katie was a beautiful child of God.
The way we talk about people and their illnesses affects the people themselves and how we treat the illness. In the case of mental illness there is so much fear, ignorance and hurtful attitudes that the people who suffer from mental illness needlessly suffer further. The resources needed to adequately understand and treat mental illness are not provided by our society.
In Katie’s case, she had the best medical care available, she always took the cocktail of medicines that she was prescribed and she did her best to be healthy and manage this illness – and yet – that was not enough.
Support and Compassion
We need to be compassionate to those with mental illness, every bit as much as we support those who suffer from cancer, heart disease or any other illness. Please know that Katie was a sweet, wonderful person that loved life, the people around her and Jesus Christ.”
“God will use this death to help others come out of the shadows. To help people to find a way to talk to each other about this illness. Katie was not bipolar. She was a wonderful girl who had bipolar disorder.”
Her family established the Katie Foundation: Shining a Light on Mental Illness in her memory. Listen to her father talk about Katie being “treatment resistant” here.
Do you have a story to share about mental illness? Join the conversation below. And share this post in support of Katie’s family and others who struggle.
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