In life we are all on our own individual journeys guided by moments and people. Sometimes those moments or people bring us great pain and other times they provide us with beauty or knowledge. It takes a great deal of power to open your arms and let people in, even more so when you are struggling with mental illness. We are all vulnerable and each of us fears that. This fear is enhanced ten-fold when you are battling mental illness or living in fear because you are different than others. It seems we fear letting people see our tears, pain, or true selves. The ability to hide has become amplified thanks to the era of technology. We can now appear as we like. Smiling faces, perfect lives, hair and makeup in place, and glowing health. What is hidden behind all of that though? Why do we strive to be something that is perfect when we are perfect just as we are, flaws and all? That is a question I recently asked my daughter.
You see I am the mother of a child who went through bullying that hurt her spirit. I saw the light dim for a good year before it slowly started to glow again. My daughter is whole-heartedly my mini me. There was a time during all of this that I felt guilt for being the role model I am, but then I realized that is plain silly. I have always danced to the beat of my own drum. Wore my Doc Martens with pride and was not afraid to chop my hair off short. Comic books, 80’s music, dancing in the grocery store, love for all shows supernatural (huge Buffy fan), and a quirky/introverted charm. My spirit inhales Star Wars, Star Trek, and all things imaginative. My daughter is no different. My kids now see “me” every day. You see for years I lived in the shadows, hidden behind depression and PTSD. I no longer do that and refuse to hide who I am anymore. If I am sad, happy, mad, or all emotions in between people know it. This is the role model I wish to be for my children.
My husband and I have raised our children to keep the door open and learn as much as they can. Life is too short to judge others. So when my daughter started having words thrown at her for being different it hurt her spirit. She expresses herself through her style, much like I do. Being introverted we do not always go up to people and start conversations, so we open the door through our style. I saw her suffer through anxiety and depression for a year, even vocalized a suicide plan. We supported her and spoke loudly to ensure she was safe. The light slowly started to glow again and then recently she was hit back down when a best friend of hers moved away. So I decided to do something different. As a teenager I remember hearing my parents, but thinking they never understood. My daughter is no different. I needed her to hear stories. So I reached out to the community I know for letters to be sent to her. Letters from those who have been bullied in the past or who were bullies. I thought perhaps we would receive a few letters, but what started out as a small idea turned into over 120 letters and gifts from across the country and Canada. The stories we read were amazing. Stories of perseverance and power. People who opened their hearts to tell my daughter about their bullying experience, sharing stories they had never told anyone not even their parents. My daughter and I cried many a tear reading these. Two people sent boxes of letters from kids at the high schools they teach at. So many stories!! It was astonishing and powerful. It taught my daughter the lesson I wanted her to learn though, one my words were not teaching.
That lesson is that no matter how small the world around you may seem and no matter how many perfect smiles you see, that behind closed doors we are all human. We each have stories. We each have known pain. There is no shame in being human nor is there shame in having a mental illness. Sometimes it is in opening the door and showing our true selves that we allow the world to open it’s arms and embrace us. These letters now hang on my daughter’s wall. A reminder to always be true to herself. That is the best gift she can give the world. Be you.