Why I'm Speaking Out About Mental Illness in 2017

The year 2016 was a year of secrecy.

When my husband and I first met our daughter at 6 weeks of age, we knew her prenatal drug and alcohol exposure was already wreaking havoc in her little body. As the years unfolded, despite stellar early services, the remnants of her early, undeserved chaos showed itself in mental illness, the severity of which became realized in heart-wrenching ways over the last year. As her parents, we worked hard to keep things under wraps as we hoped we could find our way to some normalcy; the kind of normalcy others don’t question. Some may call it naive to hope she could somehow walk away from the seriousness of her mental illness and begin to function as a “typical” teen, but I call it hope. It is with hope, that I become brave. It is with hope for her future, my future and the future of others who are tormented by minds that betray them that I come out in 2017. I think there are four good reasons to go public.

To be a voice. Our loved ones need their chaos explained through coherent words. Speak what those scars across her arm really say. Speak what was behind his seemingly cruel and hurtful behavior. Describe to those who care to be involved what it feels like to be the one struggling with a specific illness you are well-versed in. Yes, it’s OK to confirm acceptance is not the same as understanding. Yet, there are things I will never fully comprehend. I can, however, accept her as she is and do my best to explain her in a way that honors her humanity.

To remove stigma. Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. Mental illness is not a chosen path no more than cancer would be. Genetics are not chosen. Early-life trauma is not chosen. Continuing to hide our challenges only serves to multiply the stigma as it screams “be ashamed,” “be guilty.”  Look, we are all fallen people, and any of us are but one step away from a diagnosis that would be our “mark of disgrace.” Strip stigma of its power!

To advocate. When we advocate, we are a champion, a spokesperson and a crusader. When we are the advocate, we are one who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. Both of these take some education on our part; training, so to speak. Advocating for our loved one runs the whole gamut from teaching other family members all the way to petitioning our legislating bodies. It is impossible to do this well without becoming experts ourselves. It is our responsibility to further the causes that bring hope and help to those fighting the myriad of mental illnesses.

To receive support. After months of expending enormous amounts of energy I didn’t have trying to carefully guard our secret, I had come to a place of isolation, loneliness and fatigue. After a recent crisis, it became apparent I no longer had the strength or desire to continue battling with no backup. Quite honestly, our life looks very different from those who have typical teens, and there is nothing to be gained by hiding that. Is it hard? Yes! Worth it? Without a doubt. Self-care? At its finest!

Welcome 2017!  May we meet your challenges with renewed strength, goals and the bravery to be bold.

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