Last Thursday night, I went to the cast party for the Greenville production of the “This is My Brave” show. A group of about 12 beautiful people who were all struggling with or have been touched by mental illness sat in a circle to openly talk about their experiences. There were a variety of mental illnesses that could be found in that room- schizophrenia, PTSD, bipolar disorder, anorexia, depression, and anxiety. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life.
Not because of the people surrounding me- they made me feel courageous and strong. But because that was the first time that I talked about my disorder with other people who have experienced the same thing that I have been struggling against for over 8 years. I felt validated, like I wasn’t a crazy person or someone seeking attention or someone with an attitude problem- all things I have been called after being open about my illness in the past. It was therapy of sorts to be able to tell my story and be met with smiles, nods of support, and applause after years of being met with eyes full of sympathy or concern.
“This is My Brave” is about breaking down the stigma- that it is a weakness or something to be ashamed of- attached to mental illness by the telling of stories through various mediums like music, poetry, or essays. By drawing attention to mental illness, we create a world of understanding that makes it safer and easier for individuals to express themselves and overcome their illness. We break down the stigma imposed by society.
Never would I have thought that the internal stigma that I have carried for so long would also be broken down. I have always been afraid that I would be treated differently if people found out that I had a mental illness. That the looks of sympathy or concern or disgust would eat me alive. That no one would ever be able to accept me for the whole person that I am- depression and anxiety included. However, walking into that room, I was normal. Better yet, I was the NEW normal. The normal where it doesn’t matter what mental illness you are struggling with because who you are as a person is more important than your diagnosis.