I opened up about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder on my blog the other day.
I kept it to myself for a year because I wanted to heal in my own time. I am a mental health advocate and primarily share my story on my blog and Instagram. I knew I’d be met with support with sharing this story, but the amount of support I received was incredible. It reminded me why I do what I do.
For those who are not a part of the mental health community, we share our stories to receive support, to have people rally around us, to be heard and understood, to support others going through similar struggles and to break the stigma around mental illness.
Since I’m part of the mental health community and support others who share their mental health journeys, I’ve become accustomed to seeing brave people share their stories; I take in this wonderful content every day of people in recovery from things like eating disorders, self-harm and addiction. It is so refreshing to see people being honest in the name of advocacy and healing. There is still so much stigma in this world and here we are, collectively smashing it.
People can be critical of us sharing our stories and can write it off as “attention-seeking” or “being dramatic.” I believe these critics likely don’t struggle with mental illness, or if they do, they haven’t dealt with it severely enough to realize that struggling with mental illness can be hell and many may find solace in sharing their stories of hope. The argument that speaking up is “attention-seeking” is unfair, because of course we want attention. The problem is the word “attention” has negative connotations; it insinuates that speaking out is coming from a negative place.
I love what the body confidence community has done with the word “fat” — making it a neutral self-descriptor instead of an insult. I hope we do the same with “attention-seeking.” I want attention put on struggles I want the world to understand and learn more about. I want attention put on my story because I went through it and I want to be there for others who are struggling. I want to reclaim it, because it’s not a bad thing. Mental health deserves the world’s attention and understanding. “Being dramatic” is also an unfair take on someone sharing their mental health journey with the world, because simply put, we were not present to experience what they experienced, so how could we judge? It’s their truth. We don’t know so we shouldn’t judge.
It’s so important we share our stories because we don’t know who we can help or inspire. Over the years I’ve received comments, messages and emails from people who thanked me for sharing my story because it helped and inspires them or because they understood the struggle themselves or through a friend or family member’s eyes. It‘s very validating and healing to receive support like that. On my social media and blog feeds I try to take in as much as I can because I love the community. I do try my best to support others, but I realize I can’t comment on every post or message every person who I feel helped me, and I’d like to extend that same thinking to those in the community who may have just started sharing or may feel like they don’t receive much feedback or support. You help more people than you could imagine.
I’ve had people message me and tell me they’ve followed me for years and have always loved my writing, but just now is the first time they’re reaching out. For this reason, it’s become apparent to me than when we share our stories, we reach more people than we could possibly know. So to those just starting their blogs or those feeling like they’re not getting much back, know you’ve likely reached people without even knowing. Be proud that you’re speaking up.
Sharing our stories can also be healing. Sharing my story of the bipolar disorder diagnosis felt freeing. I didn’t share every detail of what I went through, but I shared what I was comfortable sharing and what I thought was relevant and what could help others understand. Like Ann Voskamp has said, “Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.” I don’t feel ashamed sharing my story; I feel brave.
The more we read about other people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences, the more we can understand. I personally used to be confused by addiction until I read up on it and talked about it in therapy. I’ve seen it in people around me, but didn’t understand how it worked or why it was so difficult to get and stay sober. My current therapist has a lot of experience with treating those with addiction, so I had the chance to better understand this thing that once felt so foreign. I have more compassion and understanding for those struggling with addiction now.
When we recognize that people with mental illness do not choose to struggle and speaking up can help themselves and others, rather than assuming it‘s to receive negative attention, we will be better human beings.