I’ve been immersed in several useless wastes of energy lately that I’ll be struggling to wrangle into order so that I can start 2017 off right. Fuck 2016, amirite?
One very cool thing that I’ve started is the She Should Run online incubator which is one of the most exciting things to come of 2016.
Lesson 1: Develop Your Vision for Making an Impact
I wrote about 6 versions of this before finally just releasing it into the ether of the internets. I had to let it go in order to move on. I wanted to share what I came up with though because it applies to my blog (it mentions my blog!) and I spoke from my heart 100% – as I feel I do in this here space as well. Please feel free to read at your leisure and comment if you can suggest any edits that may make this vision statement more powerful for a political campaign-type purpose (I’m not running any time soon or anything, but I might as well start getting feedback now!).
In 1999 at the age of 15 I attempted suicide because I could see no escape from the emotions that I felt trapped within for over 4 years. Because of this attempt I was committed to a psychiatric facility where instead of taking the opportunity to heal I continued to lie to my family, my treatment team, and worst of all, myself as I stood my ground in declaring that I was perfectly fine; there was nothing wrong with me. I grew up in a middle class nuclear family with as much privilege as you would imagine a Caucasian girl in the suburbs would have. Because I was aware of this privilege I struggled with asking for help when I needed it. Who was I, someone who had two working parents and a decent path to college to cry over what seemed like nothing at all? Who was I to refuse to get out of bed every morning when I had a bed in a good neighborhood? Who was I to be sad when I had nothing justifiable to be sad about? I felt so much shame not only for harboring a mental illness but also shame for not wanting to exist when I had so many more reasons that I should be grateful and not miserable.
I suffered my bipolar disorder for 8 years after that suicide attempt before I would admit to a licensed professional that I might need help. That was 8 years of quitting jobs abruptly, arguing with partners over nothing on any given day, losing the respect of my friends, and allowing my self-worth to wan and wax with the cycles of my bipolar; all because of the shame and stigma that went with it in our culture. At 23 I began seeing a therapist and psychiatrist but it still wasn’t until another 4 years later that I actually took my mental health care seriously. Finally, at the age of 27 I started treating my bipolar like a diabetic would their diabetes; monitoring my medications and my reactions to them, checking in regularly with my physicians, I recruited my close friends to be my support team, recording my symptoms and how they change, and taking it seriously as a life and death matter because it truly can be.
I didn’t talk openly about my bipolar to my friends, family, and previous partner until 3 years ago after I had sought out serious treatment. I was embarrassed that I knew something was wrong that entire time and had failed to do anything about it. I was embarrassed that I had a “mental illness”. I felt like I was now certifiably defective. In reality I had played into all of the damaging stigmas of mental illness and because of that I suffered needlessly for far too many years. It has taken me a very long time to embrace who I am, to openly admit my mental health struggles, and to say that I have something of value to offer my community because of these things.
In November of 2015 I joined Toastmasters in an effort to learn to speak publicly about mental health so that I can help make this a topic that we aren’t ashamed of. I want someone who is struggling at the age of 15 to identify their feelings of total apathy and emptiness as possible depression and be comfortable talking to their school counselor about it. I want us to have conversations about mental health just as we do about physical health, because there should be as much shame about anxiety as there is about a broken arm, which is to say none.
In this past year I’ve shared my story through social media and on a blog that I write somewhat regularly. I’ve been messaged, retweeted, tagged, emailed, and continue to received heartfelt comments expressing gratitude for my candid approach to discussing my own struggles with mental health. There are people all over the world who have not yet found a way to get over the stigma of mental illness and so they continue self-medicating or hide their emotions. I was recently messaged by a reader who said that I inspired them to become more open about their issues with anxiety, and that despite their worries of being negatively received they’ve gotten nothing but love and support from the people they’ve opened up to.
This brings me to why I’m here with She Should Run; I want to help give a voice to those who don’t feel strong or confident enough to be their own voice yet. I want to empower those who feel they don’t have a say to realize that they have much more than they know right now and they have the power to use it for the benefit of everyone in our community. I want to speak up for the homeless, the prison population, the addicts, and the veterans who might not realize that a part of their suffering could come from mental illness. I want to be a part of the governing body that decides to allocate resources to help repair this. I want to fight to end youth suicide due to mental illness with comprehensive mental health programs, especially in at-risk areas. I want to use whatever privilege I have to help those who have less.
* Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)