Nine months ago I was you. I was writing about my life with bipolar disorder via my blog but was too afraid to use my real name for fear of being looked at and treated differently by people in my life, in my community. What I didn’t know was that once I did reveal my true identity to the world, how nothing would change, but in fact, things would actually become much more real. In an intensely positive way.
The shame that is attached to being diagnosed with mental illness is physically heavy. It’s a weight that is dumped on a person’s shoulders the moment they hear the words clinical depression, schizophrenia, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety or any one of the many other mental health disorders. It makes us feel like outcasts, unworthy of love and respect, when in reality there are millions of Americans living with the same conditions we are.
The problem is, many of us are scared to talk about it, which makes living with a mental illness feel even more shameful. Because shame breeds on secrecy and silence, the longer we remain anonymous and hidden, the more power we hand to our shame.
Anonymous, I’m writing you this letter because I want to see you rise above the shame. I want to invite you to join our movement. I want to see you find your brave. The world is waiting.
“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” - Brene Brown
It’s incredibly hard to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To open up about the times of our lives that we’ve shoved to the back corner of the closet and piled stuff on top of so we could forget. But the memories remain, and the longer they stay secret, the more damage they do.
I found that the more I write about the lowest, darkest points in my life, the less power they have over me. The control shifts from those haunting memories to my tender heart and it feels good to have the upper hand. My initial fears of living the rest of my life with a brain illness have all but melted away. They’re still there, as they’ll always be there, but they’re more like raindrops of a quickly-passing storm rather than the thunderous, torrential downpour they were when I was first diagnosed.
Even more than writing about my experience, talking about what I’ve gone through has been a life-changing experience. I’ve learned that by accepting my past and embracing my imperfections, by talking to people about my condition, I am helping others find the courage to talk openly about their struggles, too.
We all have struggles. We all have things we’re afraid to talk about. But if we weren’t put on this Earth to help others in life, tell me - why are we here?
I believe we can all find the courage to share our stories. Maybe it starts by telling a few close friends. Maybe you find a support group in your local area specifically targeted towards your condition and you go and share part of your story. Maybe you decide to write a blog and connect with other writers online.
Or maybe you decide to show the world your vulnerability in a new and different way. You’re an artist, and so you dream up and write down the thoughts that are floating around in your head. And they come out as a song or an essay or a poem, so lyrical and beautiful and heartfelt and emotional. For the world to know the true you, the whole you. Because every piece of us is something to be celebrated.
Join me in May for This Is My Brave. We just announced auditions, so if you know someone who you think should be a part of our cast, please send them this link and encourage them to audition. Let’s kick the shame that is stigma to the curb. For good.
I know we can do this together. Because I believe everyone is capable of finding their brave.