The journey of hope and healing through mental illness

By Shawn Kirkpatrick
Opelika Observer

Her journey began a little more than 10 years ago after being married for six months.
“I had been feeling kind of down, and we went to the doctor and they told me I had a mental illness,” said “Be the Light” Organizer Susan Canaan. “I remember looking at my husband and telling him he could leave, because I’d only been married six months. He didn’t leave, he stayed. We found the best doctors, medicine and therapists.”
Next for Canaan was dealing with the decision of whether to tell other people about her diagnosis. “Some people knew, some of our friends knew, our parents knew. If I felt I could trust you, that you weren’t going to leave, then I would tell you. But if I felt you would leave, I wouldn’t tell you,” said Canaan.
After keeping her illness a secret from most people, something happened that changed Canaan’s mind.
“My husband had two friends commit suicide last year between March and July. They never knew that I struggled with mental illness. I wondered if they had known, would things have ended differently. If they had known they could have talked to me or my husband. I knew then I had to share my story. Last July, I started a blog and started sharing my story.”
Canaan said there is still a stigma that surrounds mental illness. “A lot of people don’t talk about it, and a lot suffer in silence. One-in-five people suffer with mental illness. I am the one in the five. I’m almost 40 years old, I’m married and have two kids, I’ve had the same job for 16 years, I do everything just like everyone else, but I have a mental illness,” Canaan said. “It doesn’t happen to the people you think it would happen to. Some people automatically think something is wrong with me, or they need to stay away from me. The more that people come out and share their stories, the more accepting people will be.”
After beginning to share her story, Canaan said she wanted to do something more to bring awareness to mental health, and also help someone special in her life.
“I have a good friend, Sarah Cox, at East Alabama Mental Health. She’s been with me since the beginning. She’s been a sounding board, someone I could call, even before she knew I had a mental illness. So, I decided to raise money for her organization to honor her.”
Canaan organized the first “Be the Light” 5k and 1 Mile Fun Run for Mental Health Awareness. The event begins this Saturday at 8 a.m. at Ogletree Village, which is located at 2272 Moores Mill Road in Auburn. All the money raised will go to East Alabama Mental Health Center.
Canaan’s advice to anyone that thinks they may be having mental health issues is to take the first step and admit you have a problem. “If you feel differently, if you’re down or sad, if you’re really high then really low, just tell somebody. There are plenty of places to get help. Let a professional diagnose you. I took the first step and got help. It was the best thing I ever did.”
Online registration for the event ends May 17, but you can still register the day of the run at Ogletree Village.
The race fee is $20 and signup fee is $2.50.
There will be prizes for the top three men and women.