My name is James Mackert, and throughout my whole life, I have been tirelessly battling with mental health. Mental illness has been a predominant issue I have been faced with over the years and it has taken a serious toll on me, my friends, and my family. For as long as I can remember I have been at war with myself, constantly having to remind myself that there is a reason to keep fighting. I have witnessed first hand the devastating effects of what serious mental illness can do to those who are suffering, and the people who care about them. Then in February of 2011, I made the gruesome discovery of finding my father just hours after he took his own life. This experience blind-sided me like I never thought was possible. At that moment my life had taken such a major turn, that it left me in a position that I never could have prepared myself for, and things have never been the same since. Something had changed inside of me that day, and I knew I had a choice to make… It was either to let this experience be what breaks me, or let this experience make me stronger, and that decision is where the Stand Strong mentality was born.
This tragic event unfolded 3 weeks after my 18th birthday, when I was a senior in high school. I was not a great kid growing up, I did not do well in school, and I did not have the best attitude and most people knew that about me. I went into my senior year with 9.5 credits and needed 21 to graduate. Anyone who knew me back then told me that it was impossible, and that I was going to fail, including my father. Early on in that year I had made a promise to myself that I was going to prove everyone wrong, even with all the odds stacked against me. I even wrote a letter to my father expressing my feelings about his doubt in me, sharing my thoughts about how it affected me knowing that he didn’t have any faith in me and making him a promise that I was going to prove him wrong and show him how strong I really was. Little did I know that during that challenging time in my life, that I would be faced with an even bigger challenge that my own nightmares would never conjure up. Just a few months into starting my journey to better myself, I went to see my father on a Sunday morning, only to discover his lifeless body. There were no signs leading up to this event, there were no cries for help. My father had been suffering in silence and nobody even really knows for how long. This drove me crazy, I was left with so many unanswered questions, so many scenarios played over and over inside my head wondering what I could have done, wondering what he was going through… My world went into a spiral, and just as my life started looking up, it came crumbling down from the foundation… I remember when I made the discovery, after calling for help, I sat on the floor in front of the scene, taking in every detail so vividly that it left an image burned into my mind to this day. I made a promise to myself and to my father at that moment, that I would not let this bring me down.
I returned back to school that Monday, the day following the discovery. I remember walking into school in a haze, people stopping and starring as I walked by, approaching me to offer their condolences. The only thing that was going through my mind is that now I needed to push even harder, to prove to myself, and everyone around me that nothing was going to stop me, and to keep my promise to my father, that I was going to do what he thought was impossible.
8 classes, 4 credit recovery courses after school, and 3 summer school courses later, I did it. I got all the credits that I needed to graduate high school. While dealing with the loss of my father and trying to pick up the pieces of what family I had left, I did what people told me was impossible, and I kept my word to my father. Throughout my journey, every day, stand strong is what kept me going. Ever since then, the stand strong mentality has been the way that I’ve lived my life, and it is my goal to share that message with others, in hopes that it could change someones life the way that it changed mine.
Since that fateful day, I knew that I had to do everything in my power to help those who were suffering in silence. Some people don’t want to talk about their problems, or they are too depressed to think that anyone really cares about what they’re going through. That is why I created clothing to share messages with anyone who you may not know is suffering in silence. To remind these people to stand strong no matter what they are going through. Sometimes I see little signs in the world that serve as a reminder that there is hope. My goal is to create a movement of these little signs that give other people hope, so that I can help save even just one other person from feeling that pain that I felt, and the pain that my father felt. So, I turned Stand Strong into a brand, something that you can wear that would be a message to yourself, and everyone around you, to Stand Strong. I have personally designed this brand to allow people to become walking messages of hope and resiliency, and to shed light on the amount of personal and mental issues that people are dealing with.
Stand Strong is about never giving up, never quitting, and never letting any obstacle stand in your way. It is a message of resiliency, and strength through any struggle. To overcome whatever crazy situations life may throw at you. Struggle effects everyone in different ways, you may never know what your fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, neighbors, or friends might be going through, or what demons they are fighting… These people are you, and me, and everyone around us.
By wearing Stand Strong you are making yourself a beacon of hope to anyone who may need it. To lend a helping hand to anyone you see struggling. To be that light in the dark for anyone who has lost their way. You may just be the sign in someone’s life that keeps them hanging on. Let Stand Strong serve as a reminder to you, and everyone around you, to remain strong through any of life’s toughest challenges.