(photo by Michael Hanson)
I had a psychotic break in late fall of my second year at HBS. I thought I was Jesus, that I could walk on the Charles and baptize people. I was at McLean over winter break, and the same day that I got out I registered for spring classes. I just wanted to get back to normalcy and finish my degree.
My professors knew I had a health condition, but that was all. During case discussions, I thought everyone was talking about me, not the CEO. I only told two friends. The shame and stigma keeps you from being open and saying “I just had chemo” or all the other things people send you flowers for.
When I was hospitalized, my mother gave me a copy of Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, a memoir of living with bipolar illness. Years later, that book was my inspiration for starting the Stability Network. I had one role model of a person who had got back to health, and I wanted to create many, many more.
The Stability Network has 70 leaders in 25 cities in the United States and Canada. Getting people to come out about their mental illness is actually pretty hard, but we give them support, training, and coaching so that they can become effective public speakers and advocates.
If people like me with a stable job and a supportive husband don’t speak out for single mothers, for instance, who need to go to their psychiatrist once a week, how are they possibly going to get the care they need?
One of the reasons the Stability Network focuses on people in the workforce is that work is a huge component of recovery. It provides community and structure, which is a good thing if you’re anxious or depressed.
I stay healthy by getting nine hours of sleep, exercising, eating carefully, and taking a powerful cocktail of drugs. It’s not check the box, Katherine is healthy. I live a regimented life, and despite that I still have periods of unwellness that are, frankly, beyond my control.
People have asked me if I would give up my illness, and it’s a hard question. I would give up the suicidal depression in a heartbeat. But when you go through really difficult life times, whatever they are—and in my case they are driven by mental illness—it makes you a deeper individual. You experience life more richly. Every day that I’m healthy I am incredibly grateful.
Switz talks about managing her health and the drive to build the Stability Network on the Skydeck podcast
Class of MBA 2000, Section C