As Lisa Barndollar was leaving a receptionist job five years ago, she asked her boss of a year and a half if he would hire her if he knew Barndollar had a mental illness. The woman said no. That conversation could have sent Barndollar, 59, in either direction towards darkness or light.
She chose the latter and is committed to helping the world understand that a person’s mental illness is a part of it, not the whole. And that treatment works. Barndollar now has its largest audience – the baggage claim area at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
The airport and the Community Behavioral Health Association, which represents New Hampshire’s 10 community mental health centers, have partnered to bring the Deconstruct the stigma airport campaign. On Wednesday, they unveiled portraits of 10 people, including three from New Hampshire, each with their own story of living with and dealing with their mental illness.
The partners chose to hang the images in the baggage claim area because nearly 1.6 million people pass through each year, it is a meeting point for many of the airport’s 2,300 employees and it is an area open to the public.
The volunteers of this project are more than just statistics or anonymous faces. They are mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, lawyers, doctors, engineers, musicians and everyone has been affected by mental illness, Tom Malafronte, deputy airport director, said at the presentation. When we were presented with this opportunity, there was no question in our minds. We immediately said yes because we recognize the immense importance of this topic.
Barndollar said he started sharing his story in part because of that conversation with his boss.
That just pissed me off, to say the least, Barndollar said in an interview. That’s when I was really determined to show people that, you see, anyone can have it.
McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts launched the campaign in 2016 with an exhibit at Boston Logan International Airport. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport will host it for at least a year.
I really wanted to be a part of it because there are a lot of people who don’t know I have a mental illness, and I don’t think we’d ever suspect it because I’m quote, without quotes high functioning, Barndollar said. My message is that (mental illness) doesn’t have to overwhelm you. You can live a successful, happy and healthy life.
Manchester’s Sarah Horne, another face of the campaign, shared a similar message at Wednesday’s event.
I’m a mom. I have a successful career. I have meaningful relationships with my friends and family. I volunteer with local organizations, Horne said. I also live with a mental illness.
She said she was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder when she was 8 years old. At 13 she tried to take her own life. She said the support of her parents saved her life.
Barndollar was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder about 11 years ago.
She said she felt misunderstood and stigmatized by her stepmother’s comments, who spoke of her illness as a brain chemistry problem that could not be treated. She has learned to keep her illness to herself, fearing negative comments and misunderstandings from others.
I thought, Theres something wrong with me, you know, said Barndollar. I felt that all of me was a mental illness.
The conversation with her boss changed her way of thinking.
Who knows where it might have taken me, but it pissed me off instead, she said. This is just part of me and I can still get things done, and I can still have a life and I can be successful in life as long as it’s handled properly.
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