I used to feel ashamed of my mental health condition, but now I refuse to let stigma and stereotypes dictate how I feel about myself. If you stigmatize me, that’s your ignorance, not my truth. Cool people, who are educated about mental illness and confident in their own mental health, don’t stigmatize. Stigma is dated, cruel and just plain wrong. Get educated about mental illness and come over to the cool side.
People with mental illnesses are not less-than. They are not damaged. They are not what you see on TV, the news or in movies. They are people; brothers, mothers, fathers, daughters… People. They are valuable, vibrant, brilliant members of your community. They are 1 in 4 people, not some freaky monster you’ve never met.
I have an awesome, successful, happy life… and a mental health condition. Big deal. Get over it. Just because I’m different, doesn’t mean I’m broken. In fact, I like being different.
Shame is toxic to the human spirit. I’ve let it go and replaced it with pride and acceptance. You can shame me all you want and have a big ol’ shame party, but it’s my choice whether I attend or not. (I’m always busy with better, more important things to do than sit with shame.) Shaming yourself and others are both exhausting, heavy, soul-energy-sucking things to do. I’ll be by the pool with joy and acceptance if you want to join us.
I hope you’ll also let shame go and move forward with pride. Here are 5 reasons why I’m not ashamed anymore:
1. It’s not my fault.
I didn’t choose this. It’s genetics. It’s not a character flaw or a negative personality trait. I’m not guilty of something. I don’t have a mental health condition because I’m weak, don’t try hard enough to change, don’t have enough willpower, eat too many donuts, like the attention, or haven’t read enough Oprah. It’s my brain being my brain. (For the record, though, I eat healthy and I’ve read a lot of Oprah. I’m eating cucumbers and having an aha-moment right. now.)
Depression is extremely different from normal sadness. Anxiety is not “just worrying.” People who have mental health conditions can’t just snap out of it. Know the facts.
2. My brain is actually awesome, and I’m in good company.
I’ve grown to love my brain. Ya, I have anxiety, I’m a human sponge for everyone’s feelings, and I’m so sensitive I’ll cry at a cheerios commercial, but the ability to feel so much is also <em>gift.</em> I have an extraordinary amount of empathy. My brain is out to lunch in some areas but it has extra mojo in other areas like creativity and imagination. I am an award-winning composer (writing a mental health musical!) music teacher, Dramatists Guild Fellow, and a published writer. My imagination may take me places I’m not so fond of (but I’m used to that by now) and it’s worth it for the beautiful places I can travel to. I’d rather trudge through mud and then dance in seas of glittery stars then walk on flat, easy plain all the time. It’s who I am and I’m also learning to appreciate the mud.. Hey, mud-pies! Mud-facials! Mud-baths!
People with mental health conditions are not doomed. Their future isn’t bleak and miserable. With treatment, they can live normal, wonderful lives and have happy, successful relationships!
People with mental health conditions are in good company! Think about all the people who made unbelievable contributions to the world who also struggled with mental health conditions! (Lincoln, Beethoven, Mozart, Tolstoy, Michelangelo… the lists goes on and on)
3. We all have weird minds.
Um… everyone’s mind is a little wonky. No one is thinking about unicorns skipping on rainbows (while it rains candy) all day. People with mental health conditions are not super strange aliens from a far off galaxy. (We are more like super heroes from a far off galaxy) We all have problems and struggles in life. No one is perfect. No one has a unicorn mind all the time.
4. I’m proud of how far I’ve coming and how I’ve helped/am helping others.
It takes a lot of bravery to get help for a mental health condition and stick with treatment. It takes a lot strength to tell your story for the millionth time, advocate for yourself when your care is crappy, try a bunch of medicines until you find the right one (while the cray-cray list of side effects on the commercials plays in your mind) put up with everyone telling you what you should do to get better when they aren’t qualified to do so, have your claims denied by rich insurance companies when you can’t pay your bills, and be treated like a child and talked to in an odd condescending tone when you have a masters degree.
People say hope is right in front of you, but depression is a blindfold. It takes so much strength to keep searching in the dark.
Recovery is sort of like making an huge collage. You are always looking, finding, and pasting things that help you. Your your own work of art, a constant project. It takes a lot of energy and willpower. It takes being bad-ass. I’m proud that I am speaking out (not an easy decision) and trying to help others.
5. My pain has become my power.
I’m not ashamed of my pain. I think it’s made me a more compassionate person. I think it’s given me wisdom and inspiration. I believe pain can be like a question mark, asking us, “What will you do with me? Destruct or create?” It’s energy we can transform and put to use. I believe that our struggle and pain softens when we use it to create, and then with our art/work/writing we are able to soften pain living in others. It becomes our power. It becomes our flashlight to hand to others who are still tripping in the darkness like we once were. I believe when we break down and lose everything, often we rebuild a stronger, wiser, more beautiful version of ourselves. I believe pain can be an asset. High-five, illness!
What are you proud of? I challenge you to #letshamego You have nothing to be ashamed of! You’re amazing.