Bright blue skies — until next storm hits

The annual NAMI Walks Oklahoma event went off under a bright blue sky at Lower Scissortail Park

Living with a family member who suffers from mental illness reminds me of the weather. There are sunny, cloudless days when blue skies make you optimistic about a bright future. Then the clouds gather and an unexpected rain washes away your unrealistic hopes.

I had one of those blue-sky days on Saturday, literally.

I participated in the annual NAMI Walks Oklahoma event at Lower Scissortail Park on a beautiful, sunny and cloudless day.

Sponsored by NAMI Oklahoma, hundreds of people gathered to walk in support of NAMI’s mission to end the stigma of mental health. It was a great morning.

Although I’m a huge fan of OKC’s Scissortail Park, I had my doubts about how well the newly opened Lower Park would serve the NAMI Walks event.

Too isolated. Not enough parking. An unfamiliar venue south of I-40.

Not to worry. Folks found their way to the park with no problems. And while parking was at a premium, NAMI Oklahoma arranged for a shuttle bus that would take people from free parking areas across from the Paycom Center down to the lower park.

Better yet, the weather matched the festive mood. Bright blue skies and warming temperatures.

So, we had a great time as we listened to the beat of the music selected by the DJ, connected with old acquaintances and heard stories of overcoming anxiety and depression from speakers like Ashley Ehrhart. A former Miss Oklahoma USA and a member of the OKC Thunder Girl dance team, Ehrhart advocates for mental health from her own experience.

There was a Zumba exercise class that broke out, games for kids and ‘Mabel,’ the double-decker English bus from Junction Coffee that had a line of customers all morning.

Then at 10 am, the emcee counted it down and the actual Walk began on a 2 kilometer course over the Lower Scissortail walking trails. The sight of watching hundreds of people marching north toward the upper park and eventually back south on the west side was awesome. There were dogs, strollers, children and large groups wearing matching T-shirts.

I took scores of bad photos as I walked along the course on both the east and west sides.

Anyway, my reservations about the venue were totally unfounded. It teemed with life and enthusiasm. And the bright blue sky fueled my optimism that folks living with mental illness and their families can find that better place.

At least until the next storm hits.

The Thunder Way sets the NBA gold standard

Thunder presser
Thunder GM Sam Presti introduces the team’s 2022 draft class to the OKC community as the players listen.

I‘m not sure how other NBA teams welcome new talent to their community, but the OKC Thunder way may be the gold standard.

On Saturday, the Thunder welcomed their four 2022 draftees to Oklahoma City with a special press conference at the Clara Luper Center just west of downtown.

The event was streamed on the Thunder app, so we all had a chance to watch it. And it was an intriguing hour that provided some insight into the team’s new players — Chet Holmgren, Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams.

Paula Daigneault
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault and Paula Stafford at introductory press conference

But for me, it afforded an opportunity to see and hear Sam Presti describe what he saw in each player well before the draft that ultimately brought them to the team.

It’s obvious that Presti pours a huge amount energy in learning all he can about the players, their personalities and their families, in addition to assessing their level of talent.

I loved the way he described watching the players in various settings months or years before the moment their names were announced. 

And how he uses locations of historical significance to introduce new players to the community.

All of that’s probably the reason broadcaster Dan Patrick described Presti last year as “the best GM the NBA has seen in a long, long time.”

I agree with that assessment, even if I’ve complained about every inch of the Thunder’s tanking strategy over the past couple of years. I don’t think that playing to lose is fair to their fans, players or corporate sponsors.

But that’s just me.

Thunder capFolks like my friend Steve Buck are all in on losing on purpose because they say the end justifies the means. I’m just hoping the NBA will come up with a way to nullify tanking as a strategy.

Anyway, I thought the press conference was a huge success, and the players said all the right things, as did Presti.

I also had a secondary reason for watching the Thunder introductory press conference. My wife, Paula, was invited to attend as a “community draftee” by the Thunder through her role as an employee of NAMI Oklahoma.

She sat on the front row during the press conference, and had the opportunity to meet Thunder coach Mark Daigneault and the new players. And Steve Buck’s middle school-age boys went with her, so it was a win-win-win for everybody.

“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “I gained a whole new respect for Coach Daigneault and for the way the Thunder introduce their players to the community. It was a great event.”

Paula group
The NAMI Oklahoma “community draft picks” that attended the Thunder news conference on Saturday.

It’s NOT your 19th nervous breakdown

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Walkers begin their trek around the Myriad Gardens this morning in the annual NAMI Walks event

‘You better stop, look around
Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comes
Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown…’

— 19th Nervous Breakdown, the Rolling Stones

When I was a kid, I don’t recall anyone around me described as suffering from a mental illness. But I do recall plenty of discussion about little old ladies at my Grandmother’s church or my aunt having a “nervous breakdown.”

I didn’t know what it was, but I assumed it was awful.

Fast forward 60 years or so. Now I realize that my aunt or those little old ladies from the church actually suffered from some form of mental illness.

It’s just that back in those days there was such a stigma about mental illness that no one would ever admit it. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disease or even Schizophrenia were topics that were never discussed in polite company.

Here’s how the Mayo Clinic describes a ‘nervous breakdown:’

‘The term “nervous breakdown” is sometimes used by people to describe a stressful situation in which they’re temporarily unable to function normally in day-to-day life. It’s commonly understood to occur when life’s demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming. The term was frequently used in the past to cover a variety of mental disorders, but it’s no longer used by mental health professionals today.’

Today, my eyes are open.

Every family — mine included — likely has first hand experience with some form of mental illness. I long ago decided that it’s my job to support my loved ones who suffer from mental illness, try to get them professional help and not make rash judgments or punish them for what’s out of their control.

I say all of that because today was the annual NAMI Walks Your Way event down at the Myriad Gardens. It went off without a hitch amid unseasonably cool weather but with no rain to hamper the program or the walkers.

NAMI Walk 3

The important thing about the NAMI Walks event is that it is designed not only to raise money to support the efforts of NAMI Oklahoma — the National Alliance on Mental Illness — but to help end the stigma of mental illness.

When one out of every five people in our society endures their own personal battle with mental illness, It’s important that we be upfront about the illness and support those afflicted in tangible ways.

It’s more than a nervous breakdown, even if we didn’t know what to call it back in 1962.

Thank you, NAMI, for shining a light.

(Full disclosure: my wife, Paula, is employed by NAMI Oklahoma, which introduced me to the NAMI Walks Your Way event and its purpose)

NAMI Walk2