Think about it. Would you let your kids go trick-or-treating as The Sexy Cancer Patient? The Sexy Ebola Victim? Somehow I don’t think you would. I’d like to think that nobody would. Then again, I’m an artist who defends everyone’s right to self-expression. I’m also one of those annoying mental health advocates who believes in the dignity of every human being regardless of their diagnosis. You know, one of those people.
I realized the hypocrisy of my fears and my decision for the past 5 years not to share this one diagnosis. If I was truly going to walk the walk and talk the talk, if I was going to stand on equal ground with the 80,000+ people who have ‘liked’ BC2M on Facebook, if I was going to encourage my own children to be fearless and open about their own diagnoses . . . if I wanted to let go of the shame and the secrecy, then I HAD to stop ‘editing’ my story.
It sickens me to know that, to this day, mental illness has yet to be given the same level of awareness and understanding as that of physical. On the other hand, however, I fear the repercussions of my illnesses being disclosed due to present stigma. I worry that people will perceive me to be weak which could not be further from the truth. I fear that people will slate me behind my back, label me as ‘the crazy one’.
In my five years with Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M), it has become clearer by the day that the more we speak openly about mental illness, the more empowered we become. Without BC2M, I don’t know if I would have the courage to tell my story to a room of strangers without worrying how I’d be perceived and judged.
If we want to change, we have to be willing to change. That willingness comes from within. No one can tell you when you’re willing to be willing. No one can foresee when change will come. You alone determine that. Your therapist can track your symptoms, guide you toward solution, assist you in asking yourself and your doctor the right questions to help keep you stable and healthy, but in the end, the difference lies with you. When you make the call, you’re making yourself stronger.
I can’t even say in public how I really feel at times, because sometimes I’m not ready to put my freedom in jeopardy. Why do people suffer in silence? Because we can’t be honest. And when we can it’s for one hour twice a week at max with a therapist, who we get showered and dressed up for and smile and say I’m fine. We might say we’re depressed, but we know the keywords to avoid the therapist from being legally obligated to institutionalize us.
I’m as healthy as I can muster at the moment. I go to bed early when I can and I try to smell the roses as often as possible. It’s not easy, but I try. And isn’t that what any of us can do? In this topsy-turvy world, we can keep on plugging away and working hard while managing the prospects of our goals and dreams. Sure – a synapse could get angry at me and this house of cards could tumble. But I can only do what I can – take my regime of medications, stay healthy and monitor myself regularly.
They say that people come into our lives for a reason, and I am now a firm believer of that. It is because of their support I can now take great pride in the fact that I am a much stronger person – an essential quality when dealing with the effects of mental illness.
My youngest daughter graduated from high school in June. A milestone? Yes, but also expected, right? Kids are SUPPOSED to graduate from high school. However, life doesn’t always follow our expectations. Just ask any parent raising a child with a chronic illness. In our case, mental illness. There is no doubt that silver linings exist, especially when I take the time to notice them. Every struggle, every crisis, every setback brings the promise of immense joy when success finally comes.