To the People Who Think I Should Be Ashamed of My Mental Illness
I used to feel ashamed of my mental health condition.
Now, I refuse to let stigma and stereotypes dictate how I feel about myself.
If you stigmatize me, that’s your ignorance, not my truth. Stigma is dated, cruel and just plain wrong.
People with mental illnesses are not less-than. They are not damaged. They are not what you see on TV, the news or in movies. They are people: brothers, mothers, fathers and daughters. They are valuable, vibrant, brilliant members of your community. They are one in four people, not some freaky monster you’ve never met.
I have an awesome, successful, happy life. I also have a mental health condition. Big deal. Get over it. Just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m broken.
Shame is toxic to the human spirit. I’ve let it go and replaced it with pride and acceptance. You can shame me all you want and have a big ol’ shame party, but it’s my choice whether or not I attend. (I’m always busy with better, more important things to do than sit with shame.) Shaming yourself and others is exhausting — I’ll be by the pool with joy and acceptance if you want to join us.
So, get educated about mental illness and come over to the cool side. Here are five reasons why I refuse to be ashamed:
1. It’s not my fault.
I didn’t choose this. It’s not a character flaw or a negative personality trait. I’m not guilty of something. I don’t have a mental health condition because I’m weak, don’t try hard enough, don’t have enough willpower, eat too many donuts, like the attention or haven’t read enough “Oprah.” It’s my brain being my brain.
For the record, though, I eat healthy, and I’ve read a lot of “Oprah.”
Depression is extremely different from normal sadness. Anxiety is not “just worrying.” People who have mental health conditions can’t just snap out of it. Know the facts.
2. My brain is actually awesome.
I’ve grown to love my brain. Yeah, I have anxiety — I’m a human sponge for everyone’s feelings and so sensitive I’ll cry during a Cheerios commercial. But the ability to feel so much is also a gift. I have an extraordinary amount of empathy. Where my brain might lack, it makes up for in creativity. I’d rather trudge through mud and then dance in seas of glittery stars than walk on flat, easy road all the time. It’s who I am, and I’m learning to appreciate the mud.
3. Everyone’s mind is different.
No one thinks about unicorns skipping on rainbows all day. People with mental health conditions are not super strange aliens from a far off galaxy. We all have problems and struggles in life. No one is perfect. No one has a unicorn mind all the time.
4. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, and now I can help others.
It takes a lot of bravery to get help for a mental health condition and stick with treatment. It takes a lot strength to tell your story for the millionth time, advocate for yourself when your care is crappy, try a bunch of medicines until you find the right one, put up with everyone telling you what you should do, have your claims denied by insurance companies and feel like you’re being treated like a child when you have a master’s degree.
People say hope is right in front of you, but depression is a blindfold. It takes so much strength to keep searching in the dark.
Recovery is sort of like making an huge collage. You’re always looking, finding and pasting things that help you. But it’s a constant project that takes a lot of energy and willpower. I’m proud that I’m speaking out (not an easy decision) and trying to help others as we build our collages together.
5. My pain has become my power.
I’m not ashamed of my pain. I think it’s made me a more compassionate person. It’s given me wisdom and inspiration. I believe pain can be like a question mark, asking us, “What will you do with me? Destruct or create?” It’s energy we can transform and put to use. It becomes our power. It becomes our flashlight to hand to others who are still tripping in the darkness. When we break down and lose everything, we can also rebuild into stronger, wiser and more beautiful versions of ourselves. I believe this pain can be an asset.
What are you proud of? I challenge you to join me and let shame go.
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