On the outside, Rebecca Cutler, a Chicago Magazine writer seemed engaged and happy. And sometimes she was. But alongside her zest for life and pull to help others, existed another, less obvious side to Rebecca: her struggle with bipolar and depression. Sadly, Rebecca ultimately chose to commit suicide. In took a year for her mother, Gail Cutler, to “surface from a deep depression,” but once she did, she was determined to honor Rebecca’s goals and spirit by founding Rebecca’s Dream. Dedicated to dispelling myths and educating the public about bipolar and depression, the organization is still going strong. Our Town spoke with Gail Cutler about her daughter’s legacy.
Our Town What enabled you to channel your grief into creating Rebecca’s Dream?
Gail Cutler [Before her death] Becky was planning a fund raiser for DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) in honor of her 30th birthday. The theme was education and compassionate understanding of these diseases. She had it all worked out: venue, DJ, food, fun and the all-important educational components. She died before the event could happen. After her death, I woke up one morning with the idea to carry forward with Rebecca’s dream, expand on it and bring it to the public, to honor her wishes and desires.To this very day, this is what keeps me going: honoring Rebecca’s life and dream by helping others through promoting awareness and compassionate understanding of depression and bipolar disorder as real diseases.
OT What’s the biggest misconception people have about bipolar disorder?
GC It is very difficult for the general public to truly believe these are REAL diseases based in scientific and medical facts. They are no different than cancer, diabetes, MS, etc. It makes my blood boil when I hear comments made by educated people who should know better. Things like:
What do you have to be depressed about?
Pull yourself up by your boot straps.
You are just spoiled.
Look at you…you have everything.
It’s just an act.
The biggest misconception may be: you can control this…just snap out of it!!!
OT Why do you think people don’t believe depression and bipolar disorder are ‘real’ diseases?
GC Had you known my daughter you would have never guessed she lived with such demons. She was beautiful, bright, funny, creative, warm, loving, giving, and sick with a terrible illness.
Most people do not ‘look” different or behave that differently from the general public. Sure, there may be some acting out and some depression but most folks with depression and bipolar have learned to hide it. Only when a tragedy happens will people sit up and take notice…for a brief time. Oh. Maybe he/she really was suffering with a real illness. Maybe. Most societies have been unkind to those with mental illness. Folks have been locked away, burned at the stake, banished from their homes and community, treated with no respect or regard as human beings.
I believe we are creatures of habit, of unfounded beliefs and unwilling to learn the truth even when it is right in front of us. Those living with depression and bipolar disorder need qualified medical care and support just like other people with other diseases.
OT What’s the best thing to do if a loved one is suffering from bipolar or depression? How can family and friends be of help?
GC If the person is actively threatening suicide, don’t try to handle the situation yourself. Call 911, a mental health provider or take your family member/friend to the nearest emergency room.
Generally, what helps:
-I know you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings .
-I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel but I care about you and want to help.
-You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
-You might not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
-You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
-It’s all in your head.
-You have so much to live for---why do you want to die?
-what do you want me to do? I can’t change your situation.
-Just snap out of it.
-You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
And take care of yourself as caregiver/caretaker. Do not allow yourself to burn out or become discouraged with your loved one.
OT What are your long term goals for the organization?
GC Being the dreamer I am, my long term goal is to reduce the painful stigma that accompanies depression and bipolar and all mental illness. I want to live long enough to see [those suffering from bipolar] the same compassionate understanding now given to those with cancer. Hard won battles…every one. The only way we can accomplish this goal is to educate, educate, educate. Using every method we can to reach the greatest number of people we can…we will prevail. My daughter would stand for nothing less.
Rebecca’s Dream is partnering with Highland Park’s, The Shed, to raise awareness of depression and teen suicide prevention at ShedFest, July 19th and 20th, benefiting Rebecca’s Dream. Check it out.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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