Hey you! Psst! Look at me. I am talking to you. Yes, you. No, I don’t know you, but you look familiar. I think we have something in common. It is our dirty little secret. We both live with mental illness.
Where you are in your journey? Have you recently been diagnosed, or were you diagnosed decades ago? Does your medication keep you on steady ground? Or do you fight to make it through every day? Are you tired of fighting? Do you feel alone?
The Reason I Am Here
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are the reason I am here. Mental illness is a lonely disease. Our psychiatrists and therapists encourage us to talk about our experience, but the world shuts us down.
The world cheers on people with physical ailments as they take their medication and fight their disease. The mentally ill are shunned and considered weak when we take medication instead of sucking it up. Or they accuse us of lacking faith because God would surely heal our mental illness if we prayed hard enough and believed.
Part of the Problem
Here’s a newsflash: Those people haven’t got a clue. They are ignorant, and it’s not even their fault. The world has trained them not to talk about mental illness or to belittle those who are mentally ill because that’s just what the world does.
Do you know what is even sadder than that? I am complicit in their ignorance and so are you. Our continued silence speaks volumes. If no one stands up and corrects the inaccuracies, the silence validates the ignorance.
News at Eleven
It is not good enough that the pundits speak about mental illness when someone famous dies by suicide, or someone mentally ill perpetrates a mass shooting. The same thing happens every time. When the news cycle is over, something else happens and everyone moves on.
The problem is not everyone can move on. I can’t move on. Can you? Even though the bright lights are no longer shining on us, we are still in the trenches fighting for our lives and fighting for normalcy in a world that looks down on us, not necessarily because they don’t care, but because they don’t know better.
Twenty-two years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I have spent the last 22 years trying to figure out why.
Why do I have bipolar disorder? Why can’t I be normal? Why do I get knocked down by mental illness every time I try to stand up and be counted? And why is there not a consistent dialogue about the millions, just like me, who are struggling?
There are three reasons you should share your story:
1. Everything is scarier in the dark.
Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night with an impending sense of doom. Fear paralyzes me. I can’t sleep, so I listen to the sound of the fan while I square breathe myself back into a normal heart rhythm. When I wake up to the sunlight streaming through my window, the fear that paralyzed me now feels insignificant.
That dark recess of your mind you are scared to show for fear of how others will react loses its power when you share your story. You realize that you are not alone. You see there are others just like you, and validation and hope replace fear.
2. Your story has the power to change the world.
Your journey has value. Even the bleakest points. Especially the bleakest points. There is a reason the word test is in the word testimony.
Sharing your story changes the world. It might not resonate with millions, but if it resonates with one person, a life has changed. That person feels less alone. They realize that if you made it, they can too.
I believe one story has the power to change lives by shining a light on our similarities instead of our differences. The light it emits may be dim, but the value of that light cannot be discounted. If that one story leads to another person speaking up, the light grows brighter. Eventually, the light will shine as bright as the sun.
3. There is strength in numbers.
I have a plan. It is simple. Grab my hand. Yes, you. I am feeling a little weak today. Will you hold me up? If you hold me up, I promise to return the favor. Now grab the hand of the person standing next to you.
Wow! Do you see what is happening? What started as three people holding hands has multiplied. Now a circle of people are holding hands around the circumference of the room.
Wait! That circle is still growing. It has overflowed into the parking lot, and people are lining up on the sidewalk to join hands.
If we raise our voices together in unison, something magical happens! A ripple effect occurs. Your story resonates with someone who shares it with someone else who shares it with someone else. And soon, everyone is talking about your story. Your story has become a part of the conversation!
If we stand together, the powers that be cannot ignore us. And if we stand in unity while we share our stories, then maybe—just maybe—we can change the way the world looks at mental illness and suicide one story at a time.