Mrs. Illinois hopes to help women with mental illness

July 12, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Whether it's a beauty or swimsuit competition, Lisa Sonnenberg, 32, has put a face on one of the country's biggest stigmas.

"I had the post partum depression but anxiety and depression symptoms overlaps a lot, so it's kind of hard sometimes to tell the difference," said Sonnenberg. "I was born with anxiety and when the post partum depression kind of kicked in it made things harder."

Looking at Lisa and her life you probably would never guess she is a person with mental illness.

"I've always been able to get out of bed," she said. "I've been able to play with my kids and have fun but there were just things, you know, signs that made you know that weren't me, things that didn't feel right that just wasn't Lisa."

"Right now what works for me is medication," Sonnenberg continued.

One of list goals in life has been to do pageants.

"I had many talents I believe, but stage talent was something that I didn't posses and so it kind of pushed me away and as I got older and I found there was different pageants, Mrs and different systems and one you didn't have to have a stage talent," she said. "So my husband and I though why not let's do it I have a platform, I have a message I want to share with people. There's more behind it than looking pretty in dresses and wearing grown."

Preparing for Mrs. Illinois America Pageant was time consuming.

"Physically, I had done a competition prior in November, a figure competition, so physically I was where I needed to be," Sonnenberg said. "I just had to kind of maintain what I was doing, you know, working out five, six days a week and couple hours of the day eating well."

"I had, you know, to get dresses and we're judged on an interview, evening gown and swim suit," she went on.

Her husband Scott is very supportive of her being part of the pageant.

It's been quite an adventure the last few months, she's had a lot of appearances, a lot of opportunities that have come her way," Scott said. "I think the last several years with having child after child is demanding but then to be able to do something for her but also to impact other make it a lot of fun."

The most difficult part about dealing with Lisa's mental illness is trying to understand it.

"I've always had such a positive outlook on life and it seems that when things start to weigh me down I'm able to turn the corner, and it was difficult for me to understand what she was going through when I'm able to turn the corner on a challenge quicker that she may be able to," Scott said.

Lisa's next pageant is Mrs. America, scheduled for next month.

"I'll be competing with the other 50," she said.

In the meantime, Lisa is traveling around the state getting her message about women and mental illness.

"I 'm working with some hospitals to work with their mental health department and you know just being out there getting my face out there people wanting to know who I am," Sonnenberg said.

Recently, Lisa became a spokesperson for a west suburban hospital on mental illness. She also started a cookie business that she hopes to expand.

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