My career as an actress began after my trigger moment as a teen. The only difference is I required no acting lessons. No beautifully written scripts were sent to me for memorization. My stage was built outside the doors of my own home. There was no payment received for my skills or an award given. In fact the only people who knew about my talent were those who stood behind the closed doors with me. That trigger began my journey with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They say depression is a silent killer and I would tend to agree. It is silent based on the fact that those who fight it often do so quietly.
I remember back in 1994 when I started nursing school I experienced a moment that began my career in acting. I was in the depths of my travels with my dark friend, so I shared with a professor my struggles. She was an incredible woman who I trusted. I was many miles away from home and she acted as my mentor. After I chatted with her she told me to be careful of who I tell my story to and not to tell people about my diagnosis. At first I was hurt. I already struggled with feeling like a burden to my family and closest friends, yet here I was being told to remain silent. However, I look back now and see that she was trying to protect me from the stigma that is out there as I was young and just new to my diagnosis. My travels with a mental health issue introduced me to many unkind words. Some would say I was selfish. How could I possibly want to kill myself? They did not understand that the depression/PTSD ran my body, so I felt like the people around me would be happier without me. I wanted them to be happy when I could not be. Others would ask me why I could not “just be happy”. That is like asking me now why I cannot “just have normal blood pressure”. I take care of myself, yet I have the genetic gift of chronic hypertension. Mental health issues have genetic components and deserve to be looked at like other diseases we treat.
All those judgments and unkind words led me to my career in acting while I struggled through the travels with my dark friend. I felt tainted, ashamed, and dirty. Inside my voice was screaming for help, but it was suffocated and held back by the darkness. My voice was not allowed out of its box and my dark friend controlled every move. My mind told me no one wanted to be around a sad person. So I would leave my house with a smile and a mask. Behind the closed doors people knew I was struggling, but on the other side no one saw unless they were really paying attention. My co-workers back then probably wondered why I was always sick. Sometimes just going to work and putting on my mask was just too much, so instead I curled up in a ball of tears. I tried to fit in and hide who I was, but this only led to more depression.
However, on the stage I learned a lot about others and even more about myself. I began to step back and pay attention. You can learn a lot by watching and truly listening to people. I began to become intuitive about the people around me and knew when I could open my doors. This is how I met my husband. On our first date I took off my mask and allowed him to hear my stories. I then gave him the opportunity to leave me before we got close or go on the long road with me. He taught me a great lesson by joining me. It was a reminder that it was okay to share my sadness because there were others out there who wanted to help, including my family and closest friends. On the stage I also learned the type of person I did not want to be. When you try to fit in and wear enough masks you begin to understand who you want to be.
So one day I decided to retire from my career in acting and to allow my voice to speak. For years now I have not been ashamed of my travels. My dark friend taught me many lessons and molded me into the person I am today. I have a strong spirit, mind, and heart. Yet so many beautiful people are out their fighting and to them I say this, “I am here”. Today I speak for you. Together we will end stigma and bring down the stage.