John | Home of the Brave

I had thought writing this post to accompany John’s portrait was going to be relatively easy. John had provided me with his notes from a recent public speaking engagement and I had read his book Sick to Death of the Silence, Stories to break down the stigma of mental illness.

I had done my research, all I had to do now was to sit back, relax and let the post write itself.


My first draft began with a sound bite from a speech President Obama delivered recently in Montreal. The sound bite included the phrase, “falling into the comforts of the tribe.” I wanted to acknowledge that membership within a tribe (community) clearly has its advantages, but membership renewal often depends on one’s ability to conform to its identity and meet its expectations.

I was hoping such an introduction would describe how difficult it must have been for John (a corporate lawyer) to reach out to a colleague and talk about his addiction to cocaine.

Yet I was conflicted. I knew John would be the first to tell me the pressure to conform within a community of lawyers may not be any greater than the pressure someone else might experience within their own family. I could hear John say, “Everyone’s experience is different. It depends on the community. It depends on the person.”

My second draft began with a definition of the word stigma, “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” It’s the main reason after all, many of us find it so difficult to open up about personal problems like mental illness or a drug addiction. John’s reluctance to reach out was directly related to his fear of appearing vulnerable and weak within a community of lawyers who are paid for “solving other people’s problems.”

But my second draft was reading like a word salad. I was rushing to summarize what I believed to be John’s central message as a mental health advocate. Talking about our mental health is the first step in our recovery. No matter how austere our communities – be it our families, friends or colleagues – we must reach out for help. We must overcome the stigma and talk about our mental health in order to receive the support and healing we all deserve.

I wanted to conclude the post by acknowledging the resilience and courage required for someone to share such a personal story involving drug addiction, recovery and hope. I wanted John to know that by sharing his story, he had inspired me to continue to share my own.

Relatively easy? What in the world was I thinking!

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

This entry was posted in Home of the Brave and tagged , , , , .


  1. dmiller509 June 21, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

    Thank you Liz. One of my goals with this project was to “portray” the incredible resilience of these folks. I think it is important for people to see their strength and authenticity rather than stigmatizing mental illness with words like weak and broken.

  2. Elizabeth June 21, 2017 at 5:56 am #

    Danny, I hope you are able to realize what an impact you are making to so many. You have given strength and courage to those who are so vulnerable and afraid of what they are consumed with.

  3. dmiller509 June 20, 2017 at 3:24 pm #

    You’re welcome Linda. It such a pleasure working with John.

  4. dmiller509 June 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

    Thank you Val. I really appreciate your feedback! It’s too bad the word Brave is used to describe folks who only want to be honest about their life experience and what they are feeling. Really speaks to the stigma associated with mental illness and drug addiction.

  5. Linda Lacombe June 20, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    Thanks for helping me with my struggle.

  6. Val MacLean June 19, 2017 at 8:22 pm #

    Your title, Home of the Brave, so accurately describes the blood and guts courage it takes to speak out. I for one, am deeply moved by your portraits, and hope people like John understand the significance of sharing their story. Another bravo moment Danny!

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