3 Brave Steps Create a Mental Illness Survivor

This Is My Brave, Performance October 26, 2014 - {photo by Shoot Photo Inc.} 

This Is My Brave, Performance October 26, 2014 - {photo by Shoot Photo Inc.

My first “brave” action was auditioning for This Is My Brave in March and it started the best experience of my life. I was terrified of getting backlash for being a teenager with so much baggage but then again what teenager doesn’t have baggage of some kind.

My second “brave” was finding the courage to take myself to the show and get over my fear of failure. Finding the energy to get out of bed the day of the debut show in May, getting dressed, and ignoring my body telling me to get back in bed, that I was going to humiliate myself in some way, that I wasn’t going to do well, or that my story didn’t matter, was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

As a teen you’re always judged for practically any flaw you have, and for me to get up on stage in front of almost 400 people and tell my story, point out my imperfections, let myself be vulnerable to so many strangers, let them see who I was on the inside compared to the outside, everyone around me thought was brave. I didn’t. I have never been so scared in my life of judgment.

But my third “brave”, the bravest thing I have ever done, was that afternoon in May, minutes before I went on stage, was coming to peace with my imperfections because I couldn’t control them and they weren’t my fault, it was just how my brain and body worked. Coming to peace with my mental illness was one of the best things I got out of This Is My Brave. Other than respect for myself and from others, I also gained power over my mental illness; I no longer let it define who I was or how I lived my life.

The response I have gotten since getting up on stage and telling the gist of my story and battles has been so rewarding. People I thought didn’t like me, strangers, and people I knew didn’t like me, all put away their opinions to congratulate me, and the most incredible thing of all time was they stopped to thank me. I was thanked for having the courage to speak about things they couldn’t. I was thanked for showing them that they shouldn’t be afraid of their disease, that it shouldn’t be what defines them and their moments in life. I was thanked for being born, for  auditioning, and for getting up that morning and pushing through my fears and performing.

What shocked me the most was being thanked by adults; the fact that people I looked up to in my life were thanking me for doing something I thought they would judge me for. A stranger at the debut show said to me “your courage will forever keep me going in life because I feel that someday, even though I have lived longer than you, someday in my lifetime I will obtain the courage you have.” Life is made up of moments and that moment will forever be one of my favorites.

Things changed after that day in May.

While most sixteen-year-old girls want a car, or a new name brand purse, at sixteen I wanted peace; my whole life it’s all I had wanted. Peace of mind, peace with myself, peace with others. This Is My Brave helped me find that peace that after sixteen years of suffering and surviving I couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to obtain.

After I performed I felt such a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders, as if I was finally set free of the metal illness that was pulling me down constantly and making me feel inferior to others. I still have my mental illness, it didn’t disappear and it never will, but I no longer “suffer from a mental illness.” I have bad days, I have hard nights, but I am not one that suffers. I am a survivor, I am a fighter. I found a peace I have never found before, a peace I had been searching for so hard and was close to giving up on because I thought there would be no way to find it.

But I knew, in that moment in May, after walking away from the podium, hearing the audience cheering for me and seeing some people crying, I knew that this was and would be the best and most rewarding thing I have done and will ever do in my lifetime. No matter what it is, nothing will top that moment when I found, not absolute peace, but a peace pretty close to it. I had reached my goal in life at only sixteen and not many can say that.

This Is My Brave has opened many doors for me because it has shown me that life can be hard but keeping secrets about yourself and what you suffer with makes life much harder. My performance helped me accept so many things in life, including forgiving people for what they have done to me which has helped me move on and live better.

I don’t have words to describe how grateful I am that I was a part of something so meaningful, memorable, and important. As I said, life is made up of moments, and that moment when I felt every emotion at once and everything seemed to calm down for a few minutes. That moment, when I felt my mind go from 100 miles per hour to 10 because I had solved so much within myself.

That moment is the moment I will be eternally grateful for.

I cannot thank Jenn and AnneMarie and all others involved enough, because if it wasn’t for this show, I don’t think I would have reached my goal in life for a long time. This Is My Brave will forever be the best thing I have ever done, and my biggest achievement. My last “brave” up until now, was being able to talk about everything that has happened without breaking down.

This show has made me stronger than I ever imagined was possible.

I am eternally grateful.

Thank you.

Much Love Always,

Gabbi Sulzer

This Is My Brave Debut Cast Member

*****

Stop for a moment and think of the people in your life. Who do you know who may be suffering in silence because they're ashamed of their mental health disorder? How amazing would it be if more people could feel the same relief, erasing the burden of the secrets they kept hidden for too long? Help us give them a voice. 

Share your story today. Visit http://thisismybrave.org/mental-illness-awareness-week-2016/