UPDATE: Tammy Timm has been chosen as the Huffington Posts's Greatest Person of the Day, which features stories of people across the nation who are confronting major issues and making a difference in their community. Congratulations, Tammy!
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When Lemont resident Tammy Timm competed last year in the Mrs. Illinois America pageant, everything had to be perfect—the dress, the hair and even her onstage interview.
"I was overthinking everything because I thought I had to be flawless," she said.
Timm, a 44-year-old mother of four, is a born performer. She's poised and outgoing, both on stage and in her everyday life.
The pageant was no different; she performed well, but ultimately went home empty-handed.
"Technically, I think I did everything right, but there were some pieces missing," she said. "I was so concerned about all the little things that I really didn't get to talk about the experiences that brought me there."
Behind Timm's confidence and beautiful appearance is a personal struggle, one she has been living with for the past 14 years.
In 1998, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy and the ability to carry out everyday tasks. The condition, sometimes referred to as manic depression, is characterized by shifts between manic episodes and periods of extreme depression.
It's a lifelong and recurrent illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
With the help of medication, therapy and support groups, Timm is able to live a balanced, healthy life.
"It has been an unbelievably difficult journey, but I have taken responsibility for my health," she said. "I'm happy and healthy, and I think I'm finally in a place where I want to make my life count and use my experience to do something positive."
With renewed confidence and purpose, Timm will return to the Mrs. Illinois America pageant in March. This time, however, she hopes to use the forum to speak out about mental illness.
"There's such a stigma out there about being bipolar, maybe because you don't hear a lot of success stories," Timm said. "The pageant is an opportunity for me to stand up and tell people that it does get better. You can be happy."
Life in Lemont
Timm and her husband, Paul, have lived in Lemont for five years with their four children. They attend the , where they teach Sunday school, lead the drama ministry and teen groups, and organize activities.
"Our church is very important to us," Tammy Timm said. "We try to stay involved in as many ways as possible."
Paul Timm owns the Lemont-based RETA Security, which provides consulting to schools on safety issues. Tammy is a Pilates instructor and sales representative for Silpada Jewelry.
"We live a very normal life in Lemont," Tammy said. "We've weathered a lot as a family, but we are very happily settled here."
Preparing for Mrs. Illinois America
Timm is hoping her experience in last year's Mrs. Illinois America pageant—along with her new mission—will give her an advantage this year. She's somewhat of a veteran in the pageant world, having been crowned Miss Fox Valley in 1988.
The Mrs. Illinois America competition will be held Sunday, March 25, at the Hemmens Theatre in Elgin, where Timm performed as a child. Pageant organizers said 15 women are expected to compete in three categories: costume, swimsuit and evening gown.
Contestants will be interviewed and given the opportunity to introduce themselves in a minute or less.
"I'm hoping to use that time to encourage those with mental illness, as well as their family members," Timm said.
All contestants must be at least 18 years old and married. Timm said the median age is 30, but last year's winner, Zara Johnson, was 58.
The winner receives thousands of dollars in prizes, including an all-expense paid trip to the national Mrs. America pageant, jewelry, cosmetics, gowns and a $1,000 dental makeover.
Timm's sponsors for this year's competition are her father and her family's dentist, Dr. Matthew Witt of in Lemont.
Witt said he couldn't be happier to support Timm.
“She’s really doing it for the right reasons,” he said. “She’s trying to bring attention to something she has struggled with herself so she can help others. How could I not support her cause?”
Regardless of how Tammy finishes this year, Paul Timm said he's proud of his wife's courage in discussing her illness.
“Her reasons for participating are noble reasons,” he said. “When you’re at these pageants, you see that a lot of women are there to compete. But my wife is there to serve—she wants to do something positive using the gifts God gave her. Everyone in that pageant—the organizers, the contestants, the judges—they’ll all be better just by having Tammy in there. That’s the part I’m proud of."
More on Mental Illness
Tammy Timm said she manages living with bipolar disorder through a strict treatment plan that focuses on her physical, mental and emotional health.
She has also found support through the National Alliance of Mental Illness, an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those living with mental illness. Through its numerous programs and publications, NAMI raises awareness about mental illness and provides support to those in need.
"They have helped me become more educated and active in fighting the stigma," Timm said.
According to the NAMI website, one in four adults—approximately 57.7 million Americans—experience a mental health disorder in a given year. About 6 percent of Americans live with a serious mental illness.
For more information on mental illnesses, as well as treatment and support programs, visit any of the following websites: