The first time I remember feeling brave about my disorder is when I came out of the bipolar closet online. Very few people knew what I talked about when I said I was “sick” on an old personal blog. I titled the post “Be Brave, ElainaJ,” and out it came – hospitalizations, medications, loss of friends, therapy. It was there, in all the stuff I felt ashamed or embarrassed of. And how can I be embarrassed by a chronic illness? Stigma. No one will talk about it.
But let’s go back, way back, like so far back I am just about to get sick. The day (or night. I don’t know) I woke up in ICU I was brave. Those days meeting new psychiatrists and workers and patients in the ward, I was brave. Having to move back to Oklahoma and not care what people thought about me losing (resigning) my job in California was brave.
Waking up every morning during one of the worst depressions I ever had after that move, was brave as hell. The bravest thing I know how to do is to live when all I want to do is die.
Bravery is not the same as confidence. Confidence comes along with pride. Bravery comes from fear.
The next brave thing I did was write book. There Comes a Light: A Memoir of Mental Illness was/is just that. The story of my struggle up until I finished writing coupled with my few mental illness. I wanted to write it so that someone, somewhere, would not feel so alone.
I have done a book reading and signing. This past weekend I was a part of a local author showcase. I told people about my book as they walked by my table. How brave of you to write this. Really, really brave. This is total transparency. But I felt like, with each compliment, there was this moment when their voice lowered, quieter than the rest of the room. I use to work in the field and it is exhausting. My son is mentally ill and it is hard. I suffer from depression and I take medication for it. There is just so much stigma. No one ever talks about this and we need to.
And they are right, which leads me to another brave challenge. In Spring of 2014, I auditioned and was chosen to be part of the first cast of This Is My Brave. This Is My Brave’s (TIMB) slogan is “Storytelling saves lives.” I, along with a dozen or so others stood up and, each in our own way, talked about how mental illness touched our daily lives. If I am not wrong, we performed for a sold out 400 seat theater. That was a big moment in my life. I had written about it, talked intimately with people about it, but never spoke to hundreds of people about my bipolar disorder. The show takes place in cities around the country now so if you are interested in sharing your story go to www.thisismybrave.org.
But bravery does not have to be extravagant or large. It can be quiet and invisible. Sometimes it is as small as putting the pills away or, like me, handing over every sharp knife you own to your brother to keep. You can stand up and say “No! That is stigma and I have some facts to change your mind.” (You better learn some facts).
I’ll end this with a quote I recently read, “She was never quite ready but she was brave and the universe listens to brave.”