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What It Would Sound Like to Talk About Mental Illness With No Shame

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Anxiety. Obsessive compulsive disorder. Bipolar disorder. Schizophrenia. Self-harm. Depression. Post traumatic stress disorder.

If we talk about these topics at all, we lower our voices. Our tone often becomes apologetic, entreating others to understand we know. We acknowledge this great personal failure of having a mental illness or a mental health issue is entirely ours, our lack of optimism, strength or faith, our weakness. We may even whisper we’re sorry. We’re trying to get better.

If we are not talking about ourselves but instead, a loved one, a friend or even a child, we may feel the vague shame of it seeping into our words, as though somehow this is a reflection of us, of something we did or didn’t do. We may not speak of it at all. How would it look? What might someone think of us if they knew?

Oftentimes, these are the things we try to hide. The things we work hard, so hard, to not acknowledge because of the stigma still attached to issues of mental health. So much of what we experience remains in the shadows. The light that would penetrate the darkest and loneliest corners of our lives, the light of connection and honesty that would flood the soul with brilliance, reflecting like pure sunlight off gleaming wooden floors, remains hidden. The stigma attached with mental health issues has such a strong hold over society that it almost can’t be broken.

These are the things we whisper into the darkness. I struggle. I struggle with depression. I struggle with anxiety. I have OCD. I experienced postpartum depression. Or post-adoption depression. I have trouble getting out of bed some days. I have panic attacks. I can’t sleep at night. I have extreme social anxiety. I binge eat.

What might we say if there was no stigma? No shame? No accusations of weakness? People who have mental health issues do not have these issues because they are weak or because they lack faith or strength. People can struggle, can positively wrestle with anxiety, an eating disorder or bipolar disorder and still be incredibly strong.

They can be stronger because of their challenges.

What if we could show compassion for others who struggle with mental health issues? What if we could meet them where they are? Allow them to step into the light without the weight of judgement? What if we could convey their health too is a precious thing? That their struggle, rather than something to be hushed up and ashamed of, is a brilliant and brave thing.

What if we could say: I hear you. I see you. I think you’re brave, strong and very good. I am so proud of you. I always will be. I will stand with you, stand behind you or beside you or in front of you, whatever you prefer and I will hold your hand and you won’t do this alone.

Originally published: June 30, 2016
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