Remembering my sister, Amy - National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City , Inc.

Remembering my sister, Amy

When my sister, Dr. Amy Miller, 71, died this past September 15 from causes related to leukemia, her wonderful friends suggested a variety of worthy places to ask that donations be sent to in her memory. I considered them all, but from the first day that I learned that her death was imminent, I knew there was only one choice.  

And so far, we have raised $9,000 for NAMI-NYC. Contributions have come from her high school classmates, my friends and colleagues from Sports Illustrated, my high school pals, and Amy’s friends from Austin, Texas, and Panama, where she lived for several years before returning to New York for treatment. You can donate here.

(left) Dr. Amy Miller, with her brothers and their mom, in Pennsylvania. (right) Amy in her youth.

Amy was the most difficult person I ever met. She was also the bravest. I suspect that many of you will understand that when I describe her life.  

For more than 50 years, Amy battled one of the most vicious forms of depression imaginable. I recall walking with one of her best friends who told me, “We all love Amy so much, but we never expected this to go on for so long.”   

That was in 1974.  

Amy had been sick and in and out of the hospital for only a year. From then until 1995, she was in and out of hospitals. During that time, she graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. By the accounts I’ve heard, she was a good psychologist and mentor to others in the profession, perhaps in part because she understood depression and its effects so well herself.   

Even I gasped when I saw how much medication Amy was still taking up to a couple of months before she died. Nearly all of those she had met relatively recently, as well as most of her oldest friends, knew nothing about her battles with depression.   

She was scared to let them know because she worried about the impact on her professionally, and she didn’t want those she knew to be constantly on guard, although they often were because of her mood swings, and they didn’t know why.   

She was a very loving aunt to my son, Jarrell, and she was thrilled when my son, Gabriel Jay, was born a couple of months before she died. She was also a kind and generous godmother and “auntie” to one of her best friend’s five daughters. And she inspired a loyalty among her closest friends that was and is enviable. Truth.   

I’m a believer in privacy, and I also understand the tyranny of secrets. I can only imagine the toll that living a double life took on Amy, and I know what it did to me and the rest of my family.  

I’ve often heard people say that they wished that they could have had a form of another illness or a visible hardship instead of depression, and I’ve heard relatives and friends say the same thing about those they love.  

I get it. I really do. And this is why we chose NAMI-NYC in Amy’s memory. NAMI-NYC advocates for people who are struggling and provides support for them and their families. Slowly but surely, NAMI-NYC is helping to bring depression out of the closet in a way that makes it possible to talk about it freely, while advocating for research and changes in laws that would help those afflicted with this terrible and unseeable disease.   

I wish to God that I’d had access to NAMI-NYC when Amy got sick and in the years afterward. I know my life, her life, and our lives would have been so different.  

It would have been so much better if she or we had felt free to say to people, “Please excuse my moods. I know I can be mean and frantic. I know this is hard, ignore it or talk it out with me. I don’t want to alienate you or anyone.” And it would have been so much easier for us if we had been able to say, as we would have with almost any other illness, “My sister’s depression has her in the hospital again. I’m worried, but they say she’ll be all right. This is what it’s like living with….”  

I don’t know how my mother, who was a single parent, endured Amy’s barbs, changes, and visits to the hospital after working an exhausting day in a tough business, and yet I do. Mom, who was so far ahead of her time she was a blip on the horizon, frequently told me, “I know she can be difficult, but that girl is so loving, and she is suffering in ways that you and I cannot imagine.” She was right, of course, but her suffering did take its toll on others, too, and NAMI-NYC recognizes that as well.  

To me, NAMI-NYC is really about hope and faith and helping all of us endure something that is often not explainable or endurable. NAMI-NYC is not a cure-all, but its focused and realistic persistence, competence, and vision are essential signs of faith, hope, and love.