Recently I was invited to a banquet for an award I won. The award recipients and I were supposed to give short speeches about our lives and the obstacles we have overcome.
I decided to be brave, and speak publicly for the first time about having mental illnesses. The other people were sharing personal stories about their lives so I felt like it was a safe place for me to share as well.
I was nearly the last one to speak, and I was trembling before I even got to the podium. My hands shook as I focused on my typed up speech. I focused on speaking the words clearly despite my emotions. Twice I started crying and had to pause while I collected myself.
After the speech, someone came up to me and confessed to me about how she has family members who have been struggling with mental illness. She started crying. I hugged her.
It was a huge step for me to share publicly about having mental illnesses. I still can’t believe I was that brave.
I didn’t name the illnesses. But just saying “mental illnesses” is a big step.
I hope that my speech inspired others in that room. I hope that in the future we can be free to speak more openly about mental illness; that the stigma will lessen and we can feel freer to “come out” as having mental illnesses.
I want to share my speech in case it will speak to some of you:
15 years ago I went through some trauma and was diagnosed with mental illnesses. After I was diagnosed, I was told, “People with your mental illnesses typically are unable to have a normal life.” I was told that I should not expect to be able to work or return to college. I had a bad experience with the mental health system.
I resolved that when I got myself healthy enough, I would become part of the mental health system to help people like me. I became determined to prove wrong the people who told me I couldn’t have a normal life.
It’s been a long and difficult road to get myself mentally stable. It’s taken a lot of work. I hardly recognize the person I was fifteen years ago. I have grown so much. I still have mental illnesses but I cope with them much better now.
In the past fifteen years I’ve experienced discrimination and prejudice related to having mental illnesses. It’s hard every time, but it compels me to work harder, to push harder so I can accomplish my goals.
I’m now in a master’s program studying counseling. I came to my college determined to pursue my future in counseling but nervous that I would encounter discrimination and prejudice here, like I have elsewhere. I was afraid people would notice something different about me.
But my experience here has been very positive. My professors haven’t noticed anything different about me. I have done well in all my classes and haven’t needed extra assistance.
Now I am working in our campus counseling center. I have shared with both of my supervisors about having mental illnesses and they have been affirming and encouraging. I have been constantly affirmed about my potential as a counselor and never treated differently.
Due to my life experiences, I rarely feel safe. I am always on alert. Now, working in the campus counseling center and being affirmed and accepted by my supervisors and classmates, I feel safe for the first time.
I write articles online about my experience of mental illness to raise awareness and encourage others. I started writing articles last year and I have 83 articles about mental illness online.
I want to tell people that it can be possible to have a fulfilling life with mental illness. We can find ways to cope and follow our dreams. And if you decide to see a therapist, your therapist might be someone like me who’s been there and understands.
Image by Kane Reinholdsten from Unsplash.com