Tess had it all. She married her high school sweetheart, had two boys she adored, a nice house, a nice car. She loved that car. She’d just given it to her son for his 16th birthday. Professionally, she achieved a Ph.D. and oversaw many people in her professional life. As a publisher, she compiled stories of women who wrote honestly about motherhood, because she believed our stories are important and should be told.

It sounds like a fairytale life.

But this was just the side of the story she let the world see.

As a teenager, Tess began suffering from anxiety and depression. Gratefully, these disorders are becoming easier for us to admit and talk about—the stigma of shame is being challenged.

But Tess had a secret she kept from the world—she’d also been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

Tess was afraid to share the most vulnerable part of her story.

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Because we talk about these disorders in hushed, wary voices. She worried people would jump to conclusions about her, deeming her too scary or too broken to let in. Maybe it’s because she thought the truth would scare those she loved.

Her silence took its toll.

Bipolar disorder causes extreme swings in mood. Incredible highs and despairing lows and often a lowering of inhibitions. Schizophrenia is manifest by delusions or hallucinations. You see and hear people and things that don’t actually exist or believe things that aren’t true. Both disorders often make it difficult to get the individual to continue with treatment.

For a long time, Tess defied stereotypes. She took her medication, she went to therapy, and she faced each day with strength and unrelenting bravery.

Tess was my friend.

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I cried on her shoulder. Soaked up her wisdom. Marveled at her wide-open heart and deep compassion.

I knew the scariest parts of her story—and that it needed to be told.

But Tess kept her secret. Who would let their children come over to play with her kids if they knew she saw people who weren’t actually there? Who would hire her if they knew she heard people who weren’t there?

So, Tess made her own way, learning how to live with her serious mental health issues hidden in plain sight. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes things went sideways, and the struggle was overwhelming. Sometimes she smiled, but sometimes she couldn’t. It was a constant battle—and like all of us when we fight that hard every day, we become battle weary.

That weariness can subdue even the strongest of warriors.

A few months ago, Tess’s battle, and life, ended in suicide.

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Some might say she lost her battle with mental illness—but how she died can’t erase her legacy of strength. Tess was a strong, courageous warrior who fought every day to be here, to live well, and above all, to love people well.

She is so much more than a diagnosis—her life so much more than a tragic end.

In life, Tess thought hiding her truth spared us her pain.

In death, her truth has the power to bring comfort and strength to others just like her, battle-weary and afraid.

It’s up to us now to share Tess’s story. The world needs your story, too.

If you or someone you love is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please seek help. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Calleen Petersen

An Ordinary Mom who believes in standing up, speaking out, and sharing her truths. A student of psychology. I write about disabilities, parenthood, life, and my thoughts. You can find me at An Ordinary Mom's Musings.