‘You’re so brave’ is a phrase I hear often when I share my personal stories of dealing with mental illness. People believe that I am brave for speaking up, and I believe that other people are brave for sharing their stories. However I struggle when it comes to myself, I don’t feel brave.
I’ve never really hidden the fact that I have a mental illness. I have scars covering nearly every inch of my arms..I always thought it was pointless to pretend that I was completely sane. Growing up in a small town also meant that nothing was every truly a secret, maybe that toughened me up.
While I have always been up front about having a mental illness, it was only this year that I was forthcoming with exactly what the mental illness I was diagnosed with. I bought into the stigma and I hid it from everyone. I was advocating being open, while I was happy to push down the truth about myself. I wasn’t brave.
Maybe having no choice about owning up to my past has meant that I am dismissive of my own bravery at speaking up. I still remember the day I told a boy in my class that Prozac wasn’t a happy pill. Getting hauled into the principals office for writing about a suicide attempt for a class assignment is still burned into my mind, as is being told to rewrite an information booklet, the day before it was due. They were scared, scared that what I had would be a reflection on them. Maybe I was a little brave.
I have told people to shove it, I have tried to educate them on the reality of mental illness, and still I don’t think I am brave. This is who I am, this is what I need to do. I’ve seen the revulsion in people’s eyes when faced with someone who has a mental illness. It is those looks that spur me on to talk about my story. It’s not bravery.
I hope that soon it won’t be considered brave to share stories of mental illness, not because the stories aren’t filled with strength but because it will be normal to talk about mental illness. I hope that one day, there won’t be hesitation about telling an employer that you have a mental illness, that it will be treated no differently to any other illness. It is my hope that the bravery we show today, will mean that our children and their children won’t have to be brave too.
Linking up with Jess for IBOT