Dear People With Mental Illness,
I’m so sorry about Kenneth Cole’s billboard. I’m so sorry you have to see things like this pop up on your computer that make you feel subhuman. These are both such important causes (gun control and adequate care for people with mental illness) but linking them is absolutely atrocious. It stigmatizes and misrepresents you. One in four people in the world have suffered from mental illness. You are not an anomaly. You are not a freak. You are not violent. You are not damaged. You are not less-than. You are not a monster. You are a valuable, unique, wonderful human being who deserves everything grand that this life has to offer. Come out of the shadows and stand proudly in who you are.
I’m so sorry that the facts about you aren’t publicized. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes. They are no more likely than the general population to be violent.
I’m so sorry about situations that messages like this billboard can cause. I’m so sorry that after you’ve uttered the words, “mental illness” something in the person who’s listening’s eyes or demeanor has changed. I am so sorry they have brought up another subject or walked away. That’s their problem, not yours. They haven’t done their homework and are reacting to the stigma. That’s on them. Don’t let shame live in you, where is doesn’t belong. Don’t let anyone define you. How could a label or diagnosis ever come anywhere close to all that is *YOU* ?
I am so sorry that the media hasn’t cared for you or served you. I am so sorry the media shouts, “THE CRAZY KILLER WAS MENTALLY ILL!,” or “WAS THE MASS KILLER SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION?!” and doesn’t highlight the phenomenal, brilliant accomplishments of those who struggle with mental illness. I am so sorry the media doesn’t show the mother who stayed up all night sewing a costume for her son’s Peter Pan play at school. I am so sorry the media doesn’t show Kay Redfield Jamison, the brilliant psychiatrist who suffers from bipolar disorder. I am so sorry the media doesn’t show more of the playwrights, football players, activists, scientists, musicians, teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc!
I am so sorry for the ignorant comments messages like the one in this billboard can cause. I’m so sorry people have said, “Don’t go crazy and kill me or anything!” “Oh, I’ll have to hide the knives when you’re around” to you, when you are the most compassionate, kind person who would never hurt a fly.
I am so sorry that there was a chance for your inadequate, confusing, expensive and sometimes completely unavailable care to be highlighted, but it was linked with gun violence and now you just want it to disappear. I’m so sorry that mental health care doesn’t have it’s own billboard, when it is so deserving. I’m sorry you’ve been treated like you’re weird, a child, stupid, talked to in a completely condescending tone, or talked about (by professionals) where others and you can hear. I’m sorry you haven’t been treated like the smart, capable person that you are. I’m so sorry the secretary tells you no appointments are available for three months and your voice breaks on the other end of the phone. I’m so sorry you can’t figure out which psychiatrists are actually in your network. I’m sorry the insurance company put you on hold for forty-five minutes and then denies your claims. I’m so sorry about that awful music they play while you wait to hear that they can cover $20 out of $1000. I’m so sorry you keep hearing, “THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO, MA’AM/SIR!” I’m sorry the pharmacist says, “That will be $141.95” or “We don’t have a generic” or “I ran out of that this morning, try Walmart!”
I’m so sorry about the hurtful things you see like this billboard, and the hurtful things people say to you. Sail away from them on your recovery ship into a cheesy postcard sunset and don’t look back. Let their words fly off as you gain more and more speed. Their words are heavy and slow you down. Their words perpetuate guilt, shame, and fear that cause you to avoid treatment and stay stuck. Only kindness is aloud on board your ship. Stand up against the stigma and be one of the people working to end it. Join a movement and educate people.
I’m so sorry people have made you feel weak. You are SO, incredibly strong. Seeking and staying with treatment is strong and brave. You should be celebrated, for your willpower and courage.
I am so sorry everyone feels they can tell you who you are and what you need. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with people who feel like they have the authority to tell you what is best for your treatment, when they aren’t doctors and they’re misinformed about mental illness. They say, “You have the blues and just need to get over it!” They were “depressed” once and cured themselves with yoga and green juices. Their cousin Mary cured her anxiety by eliminating gluten but she has amazing willpower. They say, “If you just thought more positively…” I’m so sorry for some reason these illnesses are everyone’s expertise and business. I’m so sorry people don’t know the difference between normal human sadness, the blues and CLINICAL ILLNESSES.
I’m so sorry for this billboard that makes you want to hide. Don’t. Hide. The world NEEDS you. The world needs your story and your voice. You are here for a reason.
I’m so sorry this billboard makes you feel like who you are is not beautiful and perfect, because it is. You are amazing! You may have an ocean inside of you, and not a peaceful pond or a fountain with perfect landscaping. You may feel waves and storms but you also feel an endless glistening sea with no boundaries. Be proud of the ocean. Just because you are different, doesn’t mean you are broken. Different people change the world.
If you are struggling right now, HANG ON! I know the pain is exhausting and it’s so hard to see the path ahead, but you will find your flash light. I promise. You will keep moving forward and it will get brighter and brighter. You will get better and better. You can have an absolutely fabulous life AND a mental illness. The two can go together!
I’m so sorry that I had to see this billboard and it made me cry. I am so sorry it hangs in the city where I am a grad student (4.0 last semester! WHOO!) a teacher, a volunteer, a composer, a friend, and a valuable member of my community. BUT I’m turning the pain to fuel to write this blog, connect with you and stand up for a cause I’m so passionate about. For that, I am grateful.
Together, we can do anything. We can get this billboard taken down. Who is with me?
I love you! Sincerely, Rachel