Seeing Beyond: Author Kate Radley Speaks on Stigma and the Realities of Living with Mental Illness. 

By Tessa Karbowski | Wichita Journalism Collaborative Intern

Kate Radley is the author of three poetry books titled “It’s Dark in Here,” “Weathering with You” and “Moments of Justice.” She lives in Wichita, Kansas and desires to share her work with whoever may need it in her community. 

When I first flipped open one of her poetry books, I was shocked by how raw and honest Radley was with her writing. It sucked me into her reality and I could see  things from the perspective of a person working on her mental health through art. And yet behind all the struggles and similes, I saw that something needed to be told. A story that could be a little glimmer of light telling people who must cope with mental illness that they are not alone in their feelings.

Radley says that she started poetry in some of her hardest moments in eating disorder treatment. She says “when I write it down in an artistic way I just feel like it doesn’t have the same sting that it did before.”

I have noticed through my discussions with people in the community that clinical information about mental health is important, but seeing their everyday lives is just as important. That is seeing the person beyond the mental illness for who they are and not just what they live with. 

I was tasked with the mission to further understand mental health through the eyes of Radley. We met several times over the course of my time at the Wichita Journalism Collaborative. When we sat down to do the second interview I recognized that Radley has been diagnosed with  several mental health challenges, but still found the strength to publish her books, develop coping skills, find new treatments, work through a challenging justice system, and just be a person with daily matters at hand. And still, she hasn’t strayed away from being honest with how difficult it can be especially with a stigma that surrounds mental health.

Radley writes in “Moments of Justice” a part of a poem:

We all want to get better

No one wants to be sick 

It’s painful

It’s lonely 

It feels like being diseased

No one wants to be around someone

When they think they can catch it

But that’s just the thing

If those around us could hear us 

See us in our pain 

We might be better off

To be heard

Help heal

A broken brain

It takes trial and error to find what works best. Radley says,  “the best advice I can give is to just keep going and to never give up on yourself. Don’t give up on it just because it is not getting better. It might seem like it’s never going to get better, but just don’t give up because it’s going to eventually, it really is, like that glimmer of hope that glimmer of light it’s going to come.”                

One thing I took away from what Radley has shared through these past months is that trauma encourages silence, but the reality is that people need to share these feelings with those they  trust and seek healing as best we can. Radley says “the people who bring the stigma don’t a lot of times understand the traumas that bring people into dark places and so I think that is what keeps me talking about it, is that trauma wants you to remain silent and keep things in the dark.” 

Radley showed me the importance of  normalizing the person behind the illness. It is hard to talk about mental health.  But Radley believes dialogue will make a difference and her poetry provides a window into the experience of someone who must live with mental health struggles.