Reintegration & Recovery >> First Person
Kristy Worthen: A Beacon of Light
She was the sweet, quiet girl who recoiled when asked to speak in front of class – but somehow her artwork spoke volumes. We all knew someone like her back in elementary school – but today, Kristy Worthen is definitely one-of-a-kind.
“I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I was very shy – in grade school I dreaded giving book reports and in some ways that hasn’t changed. Today, I may be speaking to groups of 2,000 people, but I’m just as nervous as when I had to speak to a class of only 20 students,” Kristy explained.
And, in fact, Kristy does regularly speak to large groups. She shares with them her life experiences - because this shy little girl grew into a troubled young teen, complete with mood swings and depression; then things got worse, the delusions began. While neither Kristy nor her family knew it, she was battling bipolar disorder and diagnosing the condition was a battle in itself.
Back in 1999, Kristy spent several weeks in the Arkansas State Hospital while her treatment team worked tirelessly at trying to ascertain the combination of therapies and medications that would ensure her stability. After more than a month of hospitalization and 6-months of day treatment – Kristy felt like she was finally in control of her thoughts, her emotions and her life.
“For years I knew I didn’t feel quite right, but I didn’t know the language that I should be using when I spoke to the doctor. Had I known such terms as ‘manic’ or ‘bipolar’ then perhaps I could have been more helpful in determining the diagnosis. Its because of this that I am devoted to erasing the stigma surrounding mental health issues,” she explained.
Today Kristy is a happy, young adult – a full-time artist, no less, and she uses her art to the benefit of others battling mental illness. In fact, the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA) has initiated a promotional campaign to raise awareness of the issues surrounding mental illness. Key to this campaign is a flag designed by Kristy. The flag is being flown over the state capitols in an effort to bring attention to the many issues surrounding mental illnesses.
The flag was originally designed for the Arkansas chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and it was embraced by the NLGA. The hand-painted flag is 5’x9’ and features an island with a red-trimmed, white lighthouse that shines a yellow beam across a choppy ocean. Kristy explains that the island represents how alone she felt before her diagnosis; the lighthouse is a symbol of her feelings after diagnosis – she was relieved to learn that mental illnesses can be treated and managed just like any other physical illness, and it gave her a path to follow to move her life forward; the red trim on the lighthouse represents the danger of relapse if she abandons her medication or doctor appointments; the ocean is all those who are still struggling to find the proper diagnosis and/or medication; the choppy waves represent those who have lost their lives to mental illness; and the beam of light symbolizes Kristy’s advocacy work – giving hope to others.
“So far we have flown it over the capitol of 31 states – just 19 more to go! When we do these events, thousands of people attend – local advocacy groups, families, government officials, the list is endless,” she explains. “Some people ask me what I’ll do once the national flag tour is over, and I tell them that I’ll continue my advocacy work, and my artwork will sustain me.”
To learn more about Kristy Worthen, visit her website at http://www.netmountain.net/kristyworthen