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Opening Up About My Mental Illness Was the Most Freeing Moment of My Life

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I’ve been doing quite a bit of mental health advocacy work on the local and national level lately, and was recently asked why I am so comfortable sharing my story. Without hesitation, I said, “because I can and have to.”

I share my story because I know so many cannot. I recalled listening to a friend share bits of his story while admitting he could never share it with his colleagues for fear he would be fired. That is all the more reason why I choose to be vocal and celebrate my disorder. I despise living in a world where we cannot be our authentic selves because others don’t understand. And so I feel I must shout it from the roof tops: We are normal. Mental health disorders don’t make us abnormal.

I choose to share my story of depression and anxiety with the world after being inspired by Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. I never realized he was only 38 when he was assassinated. Who at that age has that much insight and wisdom into things? Reading the stories of not only Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, but leaders who spoke out about religious oppression and more, I noticed they all shared something in common. They had fear, but for good reason. Without fear, it means the stakes aren’t high enough. They also did it for the greater good, rather than just themselves and were never ashamed of who they were.

I thought about how this applied to mental illness and how we are repeatedly oppressed, mocked, and how our illnesses are used as derogatory terms. Just this week I heard a CNN commentator refer to the Trump campaign as schizophrenic. People have schizophrenia. Campaigns cannot be schizophrenic. If our media doesn’t “get it” and aren’t held accountable for the use of such terms, how can we expect anyone else to be?

I decided to let my story loose on the world because I had nothing to lose. I felt I had lost everything at that point. Yes, I was afraid, but something told me that I was doing the right thing and I should be proud of who I am. I was met with love, compassion, and many people I knew, but didn’t know they were secretly living with mental illness. It was the most freeing moment of my life. I no longer worried what others thought of me, or if there would be whispers in the carpool line or in the grocery store. I no longer cared if people would stare and point fingers. My soul was free and I was doing something for the greater good, something I knew could help people.

I never believed having a mental illness could change my life for the better. I am the happiest I have ever been, and for someone who lives with overwhelming anxiety, I have none. I’m not saying that everyone will have this experience, which is why I will continue to fight for those who find it difficult to share their story. I will help be their voice. I will be brave for them.

Originally published: September 2, 2016
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