Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day - Remembering Mental Illness

A year ago today (Memorial Day 2012) my brother Daniel committed suicide and went to live in Heaven.

I know that Memorial Day is supposed to be about remembering the troops who have passed, but after going through everything with my brother, I want to use this day to remember the thousands of families who have children with mental illnesses.  It's something that's not talked about very often - usually to protect the privacy of the person with the mental illness.  Daniel was diagnosed with Schizophrenia at age 16.  Because Daniel is now in Heaven I'm able to freely talk about it, and I feel an urgency to share my story for the people who are living in similar situations right now who can't.

Death isn't just a physical passing.  I believe that loss can happen even when the person is still alive.  I remember the day that Daniel came home from the hospital after his first schizophrenic induced psychosis.  He was a completely different person.  It was like my brother had died and been replaced with a stranger.   He would become very violent when he was in a psychosis, and tried to hurt himself multiple times.  We were always on guard not just for his safety, but also our own.  He was placed on medication as a way to sedate his mind, because of the terrors that were always running through it.  The medication changed him into a hallowed ghost of who he used to be.

After a while, stress would affect his body and that would send him into a new psychosis and the cycle would begin again.  His personality would change every time he went into psychosis.  Daniel went through psychosis 5 separate times and it was like my brother had died 5 deaths.  Even though Daniel looked fine on the outside, after going through all the years of mental trauma he had the mental maturity of a child and could not be trusted to live by himself.

Very few people knew about what was really going on so as a family we were mostly left on our own.  If someone would be diagnosed with a physical illness - like cancer - a community of friends would come around in support.  Because there's such a strong negative stigma with mental illness, families are left on their own.  Also, not very many people supported us, because we couldn't talk openly about his illness.

We weren't embarrassed by Daniel's illness, but he was ashamed of the actions that he would do when in psychosis.  Once his friends found out, they would treat him differently than before or completely reject him; therefore, he became very lonely.  He didn't choose to have his mental illness, and it was not his fault.  All he wanted was to be normal and healthy.  Last year he was in the middle of his 5th episode when he killed himself.  He just wanted to escape the torment that was going on in his mind.

The more I think about what my brother had to go through the more realistic Heaven is to me.  Daniel went through his hell while he was still on earth; a short time in comparison to eternity that we are going to live in heaven.  He has a new body, and most encouraging - a new mind.  He's no longer in pain or trying to hurt himself.

There are thousands of families right now going through the chaos that mental illness brings, and today I wanted to share just a small portion of my story to recognize them.

A year ago from today I started working on the idea for this film, and a couple days later I started filming it.  I spent over 200 hours of self-filming and editing it.  This entire piece was inspired by, and dedicated to Daniel, and what might have happen if he hadn't killed himself.

Where I don't Feel Alone from Esther Boller on Vimeo.

I got this tattoo today in memory of Daniel.

When I was two-years-old all of my siblings and I were playing in a woods by my house. All of the sudden my brother Caleb accidentally stepped on a bee hive and it start to swarm. Right away my siblings started to run out of the woods. I was too young to know any better so I stayed were I was - right beside the angry bee hive. Just as everyone was almost out of the woods my brother Daniel remembered me and came rushing back. He picked me up and carried me out to safety. Bees were swarming all around trying to sting his head; but his hair was so think that the bees were getting entangled in it, and the stingers couldn't reach him. Both of us made it out of the woods without one bee sting. He saved my life that day.  

Tattoo by Mike McNabb at Tip Top Tattoo And Body Piercings


  1. Esther, this is so beautiful and inspiring. The tattoo is perfect. I bet that hurt like crazy but what is a small amount of pain in comparison in giving someone you love honor?

  2. The bee tattoo is wonderful, Esther!

    Thank you for writing so openly about the pain of mental illness. It touches so many lives. I am so sorry for your profound loss and so moved by your creative responses to it.

    Your tattoo is just right in so many ways.

  3. This is so beautiful. Your video had me in tears. I don't know what your brother and your family suffered through, but I have bipolar disorder and I think I've experienced some of the hell your brother saw. It sounds like he was lucky to have a sister like you.

  4. This is truly beautiful, thanks for being so open. My family has gone through the same thing with one of my uncles, but he passed away before I was old enough to really understand what he was going through. It has changed us all forever but also brought us closer.

  5. That tattoo is a beautiful symbol of someone who will always be with you. You are so brave to share your story- it's so important we all discuss this.

  6. wow!
    This video is so perfect and inspiring <3

  7. what a beautiful way to remember your brother honey. I can only imagine what a hard time of year this is for your family, but its just so touching and beautiful to remember your brother this way. thanks for sharing with us :)
    meg xoox

  8. this is such an amazing post. and that tattoo is a beautiful way to remember your brother by! it can get hard on a loved one's deathday but you're one strong&lovely lassie, and i hope you're okay! :-) x

  9. The video is so lovely.
    Thank you for speaking so openly about mental illness. Conversation is the only way to start destigmatizing mental illness; it's a long process but a necessary one.

  10. A hard post to write and a hard post to read, but so important. Our society needs to figure out a different way of addressing mental illness so the people who suffer from it and the families involved can get the care and respect they deserve. My family is not without experience with this and right now we're going through a rough patch with my sister. Thank you for posting this.

  11. This post is so sad and wonderful in one. Thank you so much for sharing your Story. I really had to think of all you wrote and I think you are right - our society has to change.
    By the way, your film and your tattoo are amazing. You did a great Job by filming and "Tip Top Tattoo" did a great Job with your tattoo.

  12. stunning film <3 I find it disgusting how people deal with mental disorder and look down upon it. i really feel te government need to take it more seriously and see it as just as important as physical illnesses. I understand what you are going through i lost my mum the same way not so long ago...

    Hayley xx

  13. I admire you so much for your strength. I have a friend that has been going through similar things as your brother. She has been rejected by her family so I try to be there for her as much as I can..honestly I don't know how to handle it most of the time.

    I Love your tattoo and the story behind it..Also the film was amazing.

  14. I so admire your work, photography and sewing works of art! One day I hope to own one of your pieces. Thank you for being so brave in telling this story, and in a thoughtful way. I'm sorry for the loss your family went through; I can't imagine how it would feel like to lose a sibling. We can tell his memory is very cherished.

  15. First of all, thank you for telling this story! I really cried when I read your text, you and your family (and of course David) have really got my whole respect.

    Esther, the video is really amazing! So many emotions in about 6 minutes, it's stunning. Your work is always wonderful, just like you :) And I also love the idea and the story behind your sweet bee tattoo.

    1. Oh no, I'm so so so sorry :( I wrote "David" instead of "Daniel" ...argh....

  16. I found you through your etsy shop and I love your photography! My mom was schizophrenic and so much of what you say is true. I rejoice with you that both your brother and my mom are healthy and whole now and experiencing a place of bliss and joy before God and we will be so glad to see them someday.

  17. This is so beautiful, and a wonderful tribute to your brother. I too have lost family members to suicide and it is such a painful thing; I still feel it today, years later, as an adult. Your story about the bees made me tear up. I don't know what really to say apart from how I admire your courage to tell Daniel's story, and my belief that there is peace after this life. Knowing that makes me feel much better.

  18. E-Allow yourself to be surrounded by different "communities" to Be. Here. Now. for you. Daniel is healthy and happy now. I hope you can Bee Mindful everyday with your new imprint of Daniel to help you Fly forward in your bright future. Love from someone who understands the image of mental illness must change.

  19. Esther, I know you probably get tons of messages and mails every day. Nonetheless I wanted to thank you.
    I stumbled over your blog just now and I was immediately amazed not only by your stile and aesthetic, but also by the heart I see in everything you do. I myself am dreaming of becoming a designer ( is what I call home.) - but you're far beyond my skill level! I started to design when my mother was ill. She also had a mental illness, boarderline, and I grew up pretty much on my own, blaming myself for her disease. Until today it is hard for me to deal with my past and the childhood i've never had, but thanks to God (and him only) I can call her my best friend now.
    I just wanted to give you a heads up - your work is not only appreciated, but admired. You have such a great sophistication and I could cry about how much I love your pictures, videos, dresses and words. You are so inspiring, it makes me sick with jealousy!
    keep the faith - everything happens for a reason xx Pia

  20. I was very touched by your story and the movie. I really want to thank you for sharing it. I personally have not really met people with mental illnesses, but it might just have been, that nobody ever told me they had any. It is something we all should know more about. It is nothing anyone should be ashamed of. I admire your strength for sharing it and am truly grateful you did it!

    Thank you, Hannah

  21. u r so talented and beautiful. Daniel must be proud of u up there

  22. That video is amazing, it captured your process of grief so beautifully and conveyed it perfectly to the made me cry, and I don't very often. Thank you for sharing your struggles with us, and giving us a glimpse inside your heart, your vulnerability and talent is unforgettable and God will richly bless you for it.

  23. I just wanted to say, I stumbled on this, and it felt like I was reading my own story. A day doesn't go by that I don't think about what it would be like if my brother was still here. My condolences.