I began writing for self-healing and to remind myself of my strength. When I first began sharing my writing with others, I honestly did not think anyone would be interested in reading it or be able to relate. No matter how often I get positive feedback, EVERY SINGLE TIME someone reaches out to me , it is humbling beyond belief. I often cry because I am so moved by their comments and letters.
I have been called brave for sharing my life experiences. I honestly don’t feel brave. I have survived and have endured. I am still living. I don’t see the bravery in that. People have commended my strength. I don’t feel very strong most of the time. I fight to stay strong but I am always struggling, afraid I'm going to fall. People have thanked me for being inspirational and giving them hope. I cling to hope myself but I am still suffering every day.
I don’t write for compliments or accolades. I won't ever paint a picture of a beautiful lie that it's possible to wake up one day miraculously cured because depression doesn’t work that way. I talk about the ugly truth about living day to day with mental illness because I have been struggling for far too long and I firmly believe I need to pull this beast out into the light if I ever am going to heal.
I am hopeful in my writing because I need to cling to hope in order to survive. I either need to fight or give up, be hopeful or surrender, live or die. I sometimes feel I must be the most positive depressed person alive because I am driven to reach out, encourage others to keep fighting, even when I feel like giving up myself. Every day, I hope that life will get easier or better over time because I need something positive to hold onto in order to pull myself out of bed each day.
Why do I write about hope and encouragement even though I’m struggling myself? I do it because so many others are struggling, too. So many people are right where I was months ago, feeling completely hopeless and alone in the world. They aren't ready to speak out because they haven’t found their voices yet. They haven’t found anyone they can relate to or they believe will understand. They believe that nobody cares. I know that feeling because I have been there. I want to be that voice in the wind, whispering to them that they are not alone, not forgotten, not unlovable, not unwanted. I want to be the muse that inspires them to find their own voice and speak out.
There is far too much stigma surrounding mental illness. People are scared to talk about their struggles, afraid that they will be labeled as broken, damaged or crazy. Society treats the mentally ill differently. We have become pariahs. We are kept at arms length as if our “crazy” was contagious, becoming the butt of their jokes as if we’re likely to break down and go on a killing spree at any time. Those who have hidden their diagnosis stand uncomfortably as friends, family and co-workers joke about people that are “unhinged” or “looney”, worried that if they speak out, they will be painted with that same broad brush.
There is an inherent shame society places on those with mental illnesses. Others suggest we should just try to be positive or happy as if it were that simple. We're told that we “don’t look sick” and are expected to explain and justify that our pain is worthy of acknowledgement. We're accused of wanting attention and pity. No one would look at a cancer patient and asks them to prove they're in pain or suggests someone with a broken leg should just get up and try to walk. No one questions their emotions or tears. There’s sympathy and validation when you can see the illness and the suffering. When you are suffering from an invisible illness, you’re faced with ignorance and doubt.
There are many people out there who have never experienced mental illness themselves who honestly clueless about what living with depression is like. They only know the stigma and the jokes. They have seen the over the top portrayals in movies and on television. They have seen random headlines about violent crimes that are loosely linked to a person with a history of mental illness. These people do not understand mental illness and are afraid of it. We need to help them to put a face to it. We need to humanize it for them. We need to show them that we are not some boogeyman lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. We are everyday, average people who just happen to be struggling in life. We are their parents, siblings, children, co-workers and friends. We have been the faces of mental illness in their lives for years. We just hid our illness in the shadows out of fear of their reaction.
I honestly believe that I have to write and speak out because somebody has to do it. If not me, who? If not now, when? Nothing is ever going to change until people speak out as a united voice to change it. I do not expect my voice alone to change the world, but I will add it to the collective, hoping that together, we will be heard. I have had enough of the shame, the stigma and the fear. We need to talk openly about mental illness so we can seek treatment and begin to heal.
Writing has become my lifeblood and healing has become my mission. I seek healing not only for myself but for everyone else who has been suffering in silence, as well. I write because I know that it makes a difference. I don’t have much to offer the world, but if I can turn the worst experiences of my life into something positive that helps others, it is worth doing. While it may not have a global impact, if my words help one person today, convincing them that someone else understands and encouraging them to stay strong and keep fighting, then I have made the world a better place.