Oftentimes during Mental Health Awareness Month, people share their stories about mental health. They open up about their struggles, the challenges that mental illness can present. These stories can vary in experience, but there is a common purpose: to raise awareness. By sharing our stories, we are creating spaces that help other people share theirs. But sharing our stories is much easier said than done, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
When it comes to our mental health, everyone’s journey is different. There are familiar patterns, but the time it takes for each step can vary greatly. I often reflect on my own story, and the way it’s come together in the last decade.
I first started dealing with anxiety and depression when I was 19 years old (when I was in college). By the end of college (three years later), I’d found a treatment plan that seemed somewhat stable. But less than a year later, I was back on the hunt for a change in medication and a new treatment plan entirely. I couldn’t find a therapist who I could meet with more than one or two sessions. Pair these challenges with, you know, life, and I ended up going years without a consistent approach to my mental health.
Writing is one of my favorite things in the world, but writing about my mental health is…different. It’s challenging. I don’t always know the point I’m trying to make, or if what I’m writing even makes sense. I’m so proud of the work I’ve done on My Brain’s Not Broken, but it took a long time to come together. Sure, I was afraid of the stigma and how my words would be perceived; but there was also self-stigma involved. Who was I, to think I could have a mental health blog? I thought. What gives me the right to think I’m any sort of expert?
I thought I needed to have expertise on mental illness in order to talk about my experience. My imposter syndrome and lack of self-confidence took over, a fight I couldn’t win. But what I was forgetting was that I did have expertise; in fact, I’ve always had it. Because there is no one who is more of an expert on my story than I am. And the only way I get better at telling that story is to start trying.
Telling our stories isn’t only about finding the right words or way to tell it. It’s also about being okay with sharing the story, and knowing it’s value. Our stories matter because we matter. Our stories matter because whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have mental health. There are many challenges to sharing our stories, to opening up about personal experiences. But thinking they don’t matter? That shouldn’t be one of them.
Raising awareness isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes, it takes being more vulnerable than you’ve ever been before. And we’re not always ready to do this; that’s okay. Because when we are ready – when we’ve grown strong enough to stand in our truth, and open up about our experience – there are people ready to listen. I can say for certain that I’m one of them, and there are many more of us.
Whether or not your share your story this month, I do hope this post makes you think. About how we’re stronger together, and how we can change the narrative around mental health. But it starts with us.