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Wellness

Why I’m Sharing My Story

This coming Monday, March 19th at 8:30pm, Active Minds is hosting a “Share Your Story” event in the Benjamin Mays Center, also known as the Silo. Students are invited to share their personal experiences with mental illness through whatever medium they choose: poetry, narrative story, dance, other performance art, etc. This year, I’ll be sharing part of my own story.

I struggled with my decision to speak up about my experiences with mental health for a long time. I don’t generally shy away from discussing it with friends, but the thought of talking about my private mental health issues in front of people I don’t know very well or at all, many of whom likely don’t know that I’ve struggled in the past, gave me pause. It’s one thing to be open with people you know and who know you and another thing entirely to be vulnerable before a crowd of individuals who could very well judge me based on what they see and hear at this one event. I’ll be honest—I’m nervous and a bit scared to do this. As a result of my past, I want people to view me as a strong and confident woman, and I’m well aware that some will believe my past and current struggles undercut that impression. I believe that most people want to be seen as strong and capable, and that unwillingness or reluctance to show vulnerability or perceived weakness only adds to the stigma surrounding mental illness. I want to change that.

Living with mental illness doesn’t make me or anyone else weak; if anything, it makes us strong. People struggling with mental health issues know that every single day can be a battle, and a lot of the time, it can feel like a losing one. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed or interact with anyone, and there are times when I find myself holding my breath without even realizing it while walking around on campus. Sometimes, the smallest tasks seem nearly impossible, and it can be so tempting to just stay in bed and avoid the world. But when I can, I force myself out of bed and make myself do whatever it is I need to do, and while that can seem like a miniscule feat to someone unfamiliar with mental illness, it’s a massive victory for me. It’s a sign that I was able to go about my life, and it’s a sign that I was able to be stronger than my mental illnesses that day. Recovery is a long journey, and it’s not just visiting a therapist and talking about feelings. It’s a conscious effort every single minute of every single day to change how your brain thinks about things, to challenge your automatic assumptions about yourself and the world, to literally fight against yourself in order to heal. It is hard work, and it’s not so easy as just “being happy” or “smiling,” both things I’ve been told to do in order to make my mental illness “go away.”

The stigma surrounding mental illness needs to end. According to some estimates, 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental illness, and 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness. That’s about 10 million people living with a serious mental illness, only counting the US population (as estimated by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI). I’ve heard an extraordinary number of misconceptions, misguided prejudices, and ignorant comments regarding mental illness. For example, during my senior year of high school, I listened to classmates use the words bipolar and crazy interchangeably, and when I confronted them, they insinuated that I should be institutionalized. I want to fight back against the idea that having a mental illness is a shameful secret that a person needs to or should hide from others. I shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of my mental illness, and I absolutely should not be shamed for seeking out help. Seeing a counselor or a therapist shouldn’t be taboo, and neither should taking medication be viewed as someone relying on drugs to make them happy. If someone’s brain isn’t producing enough chemicals to function “normally,” why should they not be allowed to take medication to help? Would anyone tell people with diabetes not to take insulin? I’ve never heard someone say to a diabetic that taking insulin is the easy way out, and yet I’ve dealt with numerous people criticizing me for taking medication to supplement other techniques for improving my health.

Living with mental illnesses means, for me, fighting a battle every single day to get better. It means that sometimes, I relapse into a dark place, and I have to struggle to escape that. It means that sometimes, the progress I make can feel so small that I wonder if I’m actually making any. But it also means that I am strong. It means that I have fought to be here for most of my life, and thus far, I’ve won. It means that the tiny victories I make that seem insignificant add up, and I’m proving to myself that I want to be here, and I deserve to be here. All of the painstaking effort that seems futile when I relapse is still progress, and even though I do relapse sometimes, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means that I’ve taken a few steps back, but if I’ve been able to push forward in the past, I can do it again. I’ve survived thus far because dealing with mental illness has made me who I am. I in no way want to glorify mental illness. It is difficult and painful and scary, and I sincerely wish the best for anyone struggling with mental illness. May you find progress and meaning in recovery.

All things considered, I want to share my story because I know that there’s a chance that my story will help someone else. Mental illness can make people feel incredibly alone, and just knowing that there’s someone else with a similar experience or someone else struggling can be a hugely beneficial realization. I strongly encourage anyone who can attend the Share Your Story event to do so, and I look forward to hearing other people’s stories as well.

The deadline for submissions to share is March 14th, so send your story or any questions to ahorrisb@bates.edu.

If you want to learn more about mental health, check out nami.org or nimh.nih.gov for more information. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please seek help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 for free and confidential support at 1-800-273-8255, and you can chat online with a crisis counselor at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.

Rachel Minkovitz is a senior at Bates College double majoring in Psychology and French and Francophone Studies. She spends a lot of time listening to music, hanging out with friends, reading and writing, advocating for social justice, and looking for furry animals. 
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