By Justin Miller, 17-year-old High School Senior, High School Football Player, Track & Field Runner, Snowboarder, Brother, Son, Friend, Soon-to-be College Student
I’ve seen the affects of brain disorders and mental illness all around me in my 17 years of life. Over the past 3 years, I’ve lost my 63-year-old grandmother (who lived with us) to a stroke; my 45-year-old uncle to alcoholism and the father of a good friend to brain cancer. The loss of these people has affected me greatly. But, what makes this such a deeply personal issue is seeing the effects of brain and behavior disorders every day in my own home. I have two step-sisters that I grew up with. The oldest, Tasha, has bipolar disorder. Although this is a very serious illness, thankfully it can be controlled with medication. Now, at 26, she lives a normal, independent life. On the other hand, my 20-year-old sister Meagan, was born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is a lifelong – yet completely preventable – set of physical, mental and neurobehavioral birth defects associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Because of the range of brain and behavior disorders I’ve witnessed, I wanted to raise money for a charity that could potentially help the broadest spectrum of disorders. In my research, however, I found that most charities concentrate on just one. When I read about Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, I knew immediately that it was the best way to honor all of my friends and family. The Foundation invests 100% of the money that’s donated into the brightest scientific minds so that cures can be found.
Last May, I launched Brain-$ells, a recycling charity to benefit The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. I started by distributing fliers throughout my neighborhood asking people to save their plastic, glass and aluminum cans and bottles. About once a month, I collect these materials and recycle them for cash. I also recycle used – even broken – electronics, jewelry and held a garage sale to raise additional money. Our entire family has solicited the help of friends and colleagues. My mom has a recycling bag in her office that she brings home weekly, and my dad recycles materials from construction sites. My initial goal was to raise $1000, but we’ve already surpassed $2000 and have no intention of stopping!
Meagan is closely involved with the charity and has been very active in all of our fundraising efforts. Initially, I think she was conflicted about having her story told, as she felt it could be embarrassing. She knows there won’t be a cure within her lifetime, but because she understands how difficult it is to live with FASD, she decided to support Brain-$ells so that others like her may be helped in the future.
I would encourage those who are living with someone who has a mental disability to be very patient and supportive, every single day. Accept that there will be some challenging days: but remember that this person has an illness and they’re doing the very best they can in spite of the conditions that most people can never really appreciate or understand.
As a teenager, I know how cruel others can be to people who are different. Imagine if the situation was reversed. Think about how well you’d be able to cope with the everyday challenges they encounter and how you’d want others to treat you. Even though their behavior may be erratic at times, yours shuld be constant and unwavering. It’s important to constantly encourage them to reach their full potential, without asking them to do things they simply cannot do. Applaud their bravery and realize that you are learning as much from them as they are from you. My sister Meagan never gives up. Her perserverence and positive attitude are inspiring. She’s remarkably accomplished within her range of abilities. I’m so proud of her and blessed to have her in my life.
If anyone would like to join my charity or make a donation, please click this link: Brain-$ells
Having others get involved and seeing this charity grow into something much larger would be amazing!