Remembering LeRoy Olcott

A personal campaign sponsored by Dana French

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Growing up, we could hardly go out in public with my dad and not see someone he knew. On the rare occasion that we did not run into a friend or acquaintance, he would make a friend. Dad was a people person. He had an infectious laugh. He invited Jehovah’s Witnesses in for dinner. He gave rides to strangers. He volunteered countless hours at church, teaching Sunday school, serving communion, doing whatever needed doing. He had a way of making everyone around him feel special, appreciated, loved. Never once in my life did I doubt his acceptance of me, his pride for me, his love… even when I was unlovable. When Dad passed away at the young age of 50-years and two weeks old, hundreds of people visited the church to pay their respects and share stories of how LeRoy Olcott had impacted their lives.

But Dad had a dark secret. While he was smiling and laughing on the outside, he was struggling with Bipolar Disorder. We had crazy fun times when I was young: riding every roller coaster at Great America three times in one day, eating ice cream for dinner, spontaneous road trips, days spent at museums, zoos, and fairs. But, for every good period of time, there was a very difficult time to follow. I remember days on end when he couldn’t get out of bed, run-ins with the law, visiting him in mental hospitals. On more than one occasion, he ran away and we had to beg him to come home. As I write this, I consider deleting this last paragraph because it may be embarrassing, it may be too much for you all to know about my family, it may taint your memories of my dad. But then I realize, that is exactly why I am writing this.

You know when God is trying to tell you something because he doesn’t give up. Other feelings or voices quiet after a while. But, when God wants your attention, he gets louder and clearer. I feel this way about raising money to support research towards treatment for mental illness. I feel it in my being. In my bones. In my soul. I feel it and it makes me want to yell out. It makes me want to cry. It causes me to pour over websites for proper charities and fundraising ideas. Here’s what God has done in my life:

A friend confided in me a while back about her mother’s battle with Bi Polar Disorder. Her mother has been a highly functioning, positively contributing, effectively medicated, member of society for years. Now, this dear woman is fighting major organ failure from heavy metal poisoning caused by the very drugs that make her sane.

Another dear friend of mine is an amazing soul who is afflicted with Bi Polar Disorder. From this woman, I have learned how to love, without abandon. I have watched her grow to know people over time and never judge. She truly sings as if no one is listening and dances as if no one is watching. Watching her experience life when she is balanced is truly a beautiful thing. In a conversation a couple of years ago, she vented her concerns about the long term effects of the medications that allow her to achieve mental balance. The same treatment that is slowly killing my friend’s mother. The same medication that my dad took 25 years ago.

Why isn’t there something better? Why have there been no medical advancements?

Another friend – also afflicted with Bi Polar Disorder stopped by one night and we enjoyed a wonderful evening sharing stories of our youth, our children, our significant others. What an awesome night it was! She has been through a lot, but that Saturday night, she was just a normal girl, enjoying an evening on the patio with a girlfriend. Two days later, I received an email from her mother saying that same friend had been arrested and would be in jail for at least the next three weeks. While there are no excuses, I know that her decision making skills during crisis situations is impaired by her illness. The girl I know, really know, would never make the decisions I know she has made.

In a conversation with yet another girlfriend, I learned that one of her siblings was just diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in the last couple of months. An aunt, a friend’s son, a close family friend, someone’s brother-in-law, a neighbor - all with the same diagnosis. Does everyone know this many people plagued with the same disease? Maybe it is because of my openness on this topic that so many feel comfortable sharing with me. Maybe just as many people in your life are affected by this, or another mental illness.

October 17, 2016 would be Dad’s 70th birthday. We would celebrate in a big way, because Dad LOVED his birthday! November 3, 2016 marks 20-years since Dad’s short life on this earth ended. November 6, 2016, I am running a half marathon in his honor. Please consider joining me in celebrating LeRoy Olcott’s life by making a donation to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

This organization has been granted a FOUR STAR rating by Charity Navigator. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. 100% of all donor contributions for research are invested in NARSAD Grants leading to discoveries in understanding causes and improving treatments of disorders in children and adults, such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, autism, and bipolar, attention-deficit hyperactivity, post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

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