Keep Calm and Fight Stigma

Raise $100 for NAMI Fox Valley and Receive Awesome T-Shirt

By Wendy Magas

Communications Director

After noodling around ideas for this year’s Bowl-a-Thon T-shirt, we have a design: KEEP CALM AND FIGHT STIGMA. You’ve most likely seen plenty “Keep Calm” T-keep-calm-fight-stigma-webShirts and images floating around social media with various sayings and witticisms. But we believe our version is extra special! You’ll see that we’ve included in our design the green Mental Health Awareness Ribbon, the NAMI Grassroots symbol, the Iris, and of course, the NAMI logo. Every bowler who raises at least $100 will receive this T-shirt.

NAMI Fox Valley’s second-annual “Strike Out Stigma” Bowl-a-Thon is planned for Saturday, Oct. 4 at the Super Bowl in Appleton. Please join us as we raise funds for NAMI Fox Valley and awareness about mental illness. Click here for information on how to join and start a team.

A little background for you: The Iris is NAMI’s symbol of hope and courage. The NAMI grassroots emblem, meanwhile, is a reminder that NAMI grew from the ground up – from parents, consumers and family members coming together and demanding better treatment and services for people living with mental illness. Now more than 25 years later, NAMI has more than a 1,000 affiliates across the country!

We are so proud to be that little Wisconsin affiliate that could! And we’re not so little anymore – we are fortunate to have a staff of a dozen talented employees, more than 250 volunteers, an amazing board of directors, a generous community, and supporters who believe in our mission and help us raise funds each fall to support our life-changing programs and services.

But of course the Bowl-a-Thon is about more than just raising money. We are also out to raise awareness, start conversations, and get people more comfortable talking about mental illness. And it’s also about being brave and calling out stigma when we see it and letting people know it’s not okay to blame or discriminate against someone for being sick or make fun of people with brain disorders.

My family and I were visiting Marquette, Mich. recently and my youngest son and I were taking a stroll downtown, visiting the various shops. We stopped by a trendy mean-shirtT-shirt shop, obviously targeted for teens and college students, and were perusing the many shirts with their snarky, sarcastic and silly sayings and graphics. We were having a few laughs when my son’s face suddenly dropped. He turned to me and pointed at one particular shirt. Then he paused and whispered, “Mom, that T-shirt is really mean. I think they are making fun of me and people with brain disorders.”

He was right. I could feel his sense of shame as he lowered his head and wondered out loud. “Why do people think having bipolar is funny? I wish they knew what my life was like and then they wouldn’t think it’s funny.”

My inner tiger mom and all her fury began to well up inside of me as my mind raced to compose a biting complaint that I would promptly share with the store manager. I mulled over my choice of words and my impulse was to march over to the guy standing behind the cash register, with hurtful T-shirt in hand, and angrily say, “If you substituted the word ‘bipolar’ with ‘cancer’ on this shirt, would you sell it? Of course you wouldn’t, moron, because having cancer isn’t ‘awesome.’ And neither is having bipolar disorder.”

I glanced at the guy at the register. He appeared to be only a few years older than my son. He most likely wasn’t the one who selected and purchased the inventory. So instead, I paused, took a few deep breaths, and told myself to calm down. I turned to my son and we huddled at the back of the store discussing what to do and say. We decided polite but brutal honesty was the better way to go. We practiced a few lines. And then I followed my son to the register.

He held up the T-shirt to the young man behind the counter.  As my son awkwardly prepared to deliver his response, the clerk asked, “Will this be it for you today?” To which my son responded: “I don’t want to buy this shirt. I wanted to let you know that this shirt is really mean and it hurts my feelings because I have bipolar disorder and it’s not funny. Please stop selling these shirts.”

The clerk sheepishly apologized, his eyes cast downward, and he tucked the shirt behind the counter.

We left the shop and my son’s posture changed, as if pride had filled his chest like a deflated balloon being filled with helium.

“You just fought stigma and I’m proud of you,” I told my son.

“Thanks, Mom, for not yelling at the guy,” he responded. “That would have been really embarrassing.”