I’ve received a lot of negative feedback lately about my choice to blog about my past. Surprisingly, much of it has come from friends and family – and not immediate family, per say, but my extended family. It has been a great discouragement to me for many reasons. The primary reason is my desire for their approval. This begs the question, what is driving their disapproval of me writing about my past?
One thing I can say with confidence is that they are uncomfortable with talking about emotional pain. Not only that, but they are afraid to have their own inward pain triggered. In other words, they’d prefer we just pretend this is a pleasant world and turn a blind eye to pain and suffering.
Yes, feeling depressed sucks. Trust me, I know and I’ve got scars to prove it. But the lesson those of us who actually have to take psychotropic medicine (and spend extended periods of time in psyche hospitals), take away is: I have to keep my story inside. No one wants to hear it. No one understands what I’ve been through. No one wants to understand what I’ve been through.
What could possibly be the problem with this?
Let’s try a thinking experiment.
Imagine going somewhere alone and experiencing something so life-changing no words can justly describe it. It is the defining moment of your life, forever altering your direction. Yet when you return home to your friends and family, you are not allowed to speak of it. In fact, you must live life as though nothing happened. Do you think you would forget what happened? Do you think the memory and emotions associated with it would fester inside you until you attempted suicide? What if, after having attempted suicide and failed, you were left with even more emotional pain you were forced to keep within?
If you can put yourself in the frame of mind of someone who has a mental illness (that only manifests in behaviors and otherwise does not affect intelligence or create any physical distortions), you might find a “normal” person who is just unable to connect with anyone in the “real” world.
If you’re suffering from a mental illness, connecting with someone else who’s been down that road is essential. A psychiatrist can prescribe medication. A psychologist can offer strategic guidance. But meeting someone else who has experienced the pain and the stigma of mental illness is an undeniable blessing. Why? Because for once someone is relating to you not from a perspective of curiosity or judgment, but from the trenches. This allows another sort of healing to take place in which we, the mentally ill, no longer feel alone.
Support groups exist. I have yet to find one in my area but certainly in larger cities people are able to gather together and discuss fears, triumphs, and share stories in a safe, welcoming environment.
“Sometimes God redeems your story by surrounding you with people who need to hear your past so it doesn’t become their future.”
I once met Jamie Tworkowski ,who founded To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) and, with the focus on raising awareness about people who self-harm, he and those who work with him have begun a campaign to encourage people to share their personal stories of struggle. I think this is a beautiful idea! Because the less we talk about the stuff, the more isolated those suffering from mental illness become.
Last week I was watching a TED talk by comedian Joshua Walters ,who happens to have bipolar disorder and found out via a hyper-religious episode that bore key similarities to the manic episode that led to my first hospitalization. I felt a connection to him right away.
But until we are able to open up to anyone about our illness without fear of being further stigmatized, we will have a hard time finding others like us to connect with. Think about it.
What can you do to help?