I’m going to step outside my normal comfort zone today, and talk about something very personal to my life. You’ve likely noticed I don’t share a lot of details about my children, or anything beyond superficial mentions of my family. I do that deliberately, because even though I’m putting myself out here for the world to see, they have not chosen to do so and I don’t feel I have the right to force that on them.
But what I’ll be talking about today is something that I feel is too important to not do it just because it’s personal. I’ve also talked with some members of my family and confirmed that they’re okay with this, and others are unfortunately no longer around to take issue with it – but if they were the kind of people I think they were, they would be okay with it, and would want this.
Before I go any further, let me mention that this post will talk about mental health, suicide, and treatment of mental health – if these are issues for you (meaning they will affect your own mental health), please feel free to check out one of my book pages or this post from my trip to the coast recently. If they merely make you a little uncomfortable, I ask you to keep reading and try to understand.
More than a decade ago, just months before I got pregnant with my oldest child, my Uncle David, my mother’s brother, committed suicide. This was after years and years of struggling with bipolar disorder, and many other failed attempts. He had a lot of issues – he’d been badly burned as a child after playing with matches, he had trouble with relationships and jobs due to his bipolar, and my grandmother (step-grandmother, actually, but we’ll get to that) had her own issues to deal with (Alzheimer’s) that meant she couldn’t give him the help he desperately needed. He was on medication, and after previous failed attempts that involved swallowing pills, the nurse who cared for him would even check to ensure he took his pills. But apparently, what he did was swallow them and then vomit them back up as soon as she was gone. He saved up enough pills to take them all and do what he set out to do: die. On Christmas Eve.
He wasn’t the first member of my family to do that, though. My grandmother, his biological mother, killed herself as well. She didn’t do it with pills, she did it much more graphically, and left four very young children behind (my Uncle David was only about a year old, and my mother wasn’t even two years old yet). This was back in the 50s, though, and she struggled with her disease all alone. So alone, in fact, that we don’t even have an official diagnosis for her. We suspect, given the bipolar in my uncle, that she also had bipolar, and it’s always possible some postpartum depression contributed to it, but we know there were other problems as well.
My mother, her two brothers, and her sister all grew up without a mother (one uncle and my aunt did get to know her a little better, as they were older, but not by much). My cousins and I never got to meet our biological grandmother. My grandfather remarried, taking a wife who…well, let’s just say that she probably tried, but she probably was never really meant to be a mother. As a grandmother, I have some nice memories of her, but once her Alzheimer’s got bad, most of my memories are either of a very mean woman or a very sad woman who was living in a fantasy much of the time.
Untreated mental illnesses can, literally, destroy families. I could list other examples of people that I know personally who could attest to this, but those are their stories to tell or not tell.
Last year, I met my friend Bonnielee Cuevas. Bonnielee, her fiance Carl, and her son have started this amazing nonprofit that actually prompted me to write this post. They started Our Tiny Safe Haven, and I think it’s really awesome for a few reasons, but I need to explain a little more about what it is before I can explain why I think it’s so awesome.
The Our Tiny Safe Haven Foundation is a nonprofit foundation, and its purpose is to help people with Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and PTSD cope with their conditions using natural methods. To quote Bonnielee directly:
We are not providing treatment but a retreat that provides workshops to encourage bonding, and solidify their family unit, and their support system (family isn’t always a blood relative). Workshops that increase their resources, and knowledge for healthier methods to combat mental health symptoms such as exercise and nutrition (we do this through homesteading, and cooking). Workshops to strengthen them spiritually. Workshops that teaches them creative outlets for them to put their energy into to combat their symptoms (we do this through music, and art), and other many more activities that will give them holistic tools to manage their symptoms.
They are not providing medication, or any other kind of treatment for these conditions. But they are also not promoting the idea that you can, or should, ignore medical treatment in the form of medication, therapy, etc. in favor of only holistic methods. Their intention is to give people the ability to help themselves, in ways that will make them healthier, happier, and better equipped to deal with stress.
As someone who has dealt with depression myself, I know that my doctor was always very clear that things like healthy eating, more exercise, time spent outdoors, and creative outlets such as journaling would help me. I had to take medication on a couple of occasions (although, in those times, I think my problem was more of a situational depression due to certain people/circumstances in my life rather than the clinical depression that I was officially diagnosed with), but I know that I definitely feel better when I try to eat better, exercise more and absolutely when I spend at least a little time outside each day. For me, with what is usually a fairly mild depression, holistic methods would probably be enough for me.
But many people aren’t lucky enough to have a doctor like that. Some people think medication is the only option and their doctor is perfectly willing to write them a prescription and let them go with that. Which is why I love the idea behind Our Tiny Safe Haven. Helping people to see that there are other things you can do that can help give you relief, even if it doesn’t change your treatment plan, is always a good thing.
But there’s more to this than just that. Our Tiny Safe Haven is also a tiny home community. Tiny houses are usually about 300 sq ft or less with bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms. They often have two floors such as lofts for bedrooms. It’s living in less space,with less stuff, and for some, it’s still living with multiple people.
I love the idea of the tiny home community in conjunction with helping to treat mental health conditions. While I do not believe that today’s materialistic society is the cause of these conditions, I don’t think it helps much either. So many people, with or without mental health conditions, believe that more money, a bigger house, a nicer car, more stuff is going to make them happier. They end up drowning in debt, surrounded by things they never use, houses that are too big for them, cars they can’t afford, and they’re absolutely miserable. If you’re already feeling miserable because your brain isn’t working properly, this misery must be so much worse. So I love the idea of condensing your life – even if only for a week or two for a retreat – to the things that are most important. It helps you to truly decide which things are really important and which ones you’re just holding onto because you can. It also, with the close quarters, contributes to better communication between you and your loved ones, as well as more quality time (both because you get more time together and because the time is truly quality because you’re not distracted by all the stuff). I think that will be a huge benefit to the visitors who come for retreats.
Safety is of the utmost concern, and Our Tiny Safe Haven does all they can to ensure an environment for retreat visitors and others that is safe and secure, where people can feel free to explore the workshops and what it’s like to live this lifestyle.
So, back to the reasons why I love this idea:
- They have personal experience with mental health conditions affecting their lives. Whether it’s having a condition themselves, or being a family member of someone who does, they have intimate knowledge of the situations they’re trying to help. While doctors and therapists have training that help them know how to deal with patients that have these conditions, I think it’s far easier to trust someone who actually “knows of what they speak,” rather than someone who just has education. And it’s certainly far easier to trust the person who’s been there than the one who “has a friend who has a friend who has a cousin who knows a guy who had that.”
- Everything they’re doing is holistic. Everything they’ll offer is drug free. This is all about teaching people about healthier eating, using exercise to feel better, using journals and music and talking and other things like that to cope with their condition. No, it may not solve all their problems; in most cases, it won’t. But it will help them feel better equipped to face their problems, and medicated or not, that’s always something that can make someone feel better.
- This last one is actually more about the people involved than the idea itself, but I still have to include it: They believe so much in what they are doing that they are leaving behind everything they know, every bit of stability in being near family and friends and the jobs they currently use to support their family, to go to Tennessee and invest every cent, every moment, everything they have, into it.
They have 15 acres in Tennessee where they will build their tiny house community and host the mental health retreats. They’ll also have permanent residents that volunteer in exchange for 1/2 acre on the land at a nominal monthly rate.
Their goal, which they are currently on track for, is to open in January 2016. In order to stay on track, they need help, which is part of why I’m writing this post.
They need money to help get things done, and they need donations of items. They are fully licensed, and registered with the entire state of TN, and the IRS, and are a non-profit with 4 board members that advise and approve everything they do. To find out how you can donate money, or find out what items they’re looking for, you can go here:
When I think of my uncle, I think of how the pills that were supposed to help him ultimately killed him. I often wonder, since meeting Bonnielee, if something like this had existed (or if it does already exist, if there was more information about it out there) when he was struggling, if he might still be here today. I know that the things that will be taught in these workshops would never have been enough to get him off medication, but maybe it would have been enough to help him deal with his symptoms and use his medication the way it was intended to be used. Maybe it would have helped the rest of the family know how to help him, and maybe he wouldn’t have felt so alone.
That’s why I want to see Our Tiny Safe Haven succeed. I hope that you’ll want to help them succeed, too. Any help you might be able to offer will do so much for them, and will be very much appreciated by them. If nothing else, maybe you could share a link to this blog post, their website, or one of their fundraisers with your friends and family – spreading awareness is certainly a valid way to help.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope that between what I’ve written here and the links that I provided to their site, you’ve been persuaded to help, even if only in a small way.