I did something Sunday evening I never imagined I would do – I read in front of a crowded coffee/ wine shop from my memoir that I had written about mental health, my mental illnesses.
It was me, putting myself out there. Baring my soul, my secrets. It took me a long time to get here to share, to be brave enough to do it. People ask me how long it took to write it and I want to tell them that was the easy part. Being rejected by over 30 agents. A devastating break-up. 3 moves. It took more than a while to actually get the gumption to get my act together and share my story. Once I decided to make it come to fruition, it wasn’t easy. I needed to find designers. Negotiate contracts. Approve drafts. As I said, it is as though writing the book, “There Comes a Light: A Memoir of Mental Illness,” was the easy part. (And it wasn’t easy).
So let’s stop talking about me (the example) and instead talk about us. What can we do from diagnosis to sharing our stories? It’s hard isn’t? Sharing our stories even with those who love us because deep down we know people won’t understand, that they can’t possibly understand. It may hurt too much or feel to odd. But as it turns out, a lot of them dounderstand. Either they or someone close to them lives with some type of mental illness. I mean, if the number is one in four Americans are mentally ill, wouldn’t it stand to reason that everyone KNOWS someone?
When the book reading ended, several people, each individually and quietly, told me they wanted to talk to me about what they had gone through. Some wanted to get together another time some wanted to speak then. But they were almost there, almost ready to give voice to their condition.
The first thing you have to do is lose the shame. Babe, it is okay! Just like me, you are going to one day shake it off. It isn’t something you can put on any calendar but one day it will slide off and you will wonder why you were ever ashamed in the first place.
Next will be the guilt. We feel like mental illness is something we somehow “deserve.” We have schizophrenia because we always used to lie. Now seriously, how could something as simple as lying to his or her mom as a child have anything with an imbalance of chemicals in your brain.
Now you will lose the pain. Mental illness is painful. In my case it has been since day one, maybe not for you. But it will start to lessen as the shame and guilt leave. Lessen enough that you can leave the house and talk on the phone and write an email. This feels good.
And as you begin to socialize, see who feels “safe.” “Safe” people are the one you believe you won’t be judged by. They could be anyone – from a therapist to your grandma. When you are ready share with them your mental illness and how it makes you feel, and how they can help you. Because mental illness isn’t singular, it takes a village to raise a child.