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The stigma surrounding mental illness is well-documented. Worldwide, there are hundreds of annual drives, fundraisers, and campaigns focused on raising awareness and tearing down the walls which trap those who suffer in silence. With the passage of time, the tides are changing. More people are confidently standing against their disorders and reaching out for help, creating communities of encouragement and support through recovery.
To create noise, to change the tides, to eliminate the stigma, voices are needed. Individuals reach deep within to search for strength in even their most dank, forgotten corners, collecting every ounce they can muster. They scrape the bottoms of the inner barrels to round up their last shreds of confidence. They put together their stories, likely an exhausting and emotional task requiring them to open forgotten troves of memories, returning them to past agonies and fear.
Once all this is done, they climb the precarious mountain of inner courage, power, hope, and history to have the spotlight turned on them and their story.
They imbibe this light and turn into a beacon for others looking to abandon their shadows. And as they stand, exposed and frighteningly human, exhausted and vulnerable, they think only of those they might be able to help and not of the possible outcomes which might befall them:
Will others embrace their message? Will they be singled out and become the victims of commentary or criticism? Will they topple and come crashing down as their inner strength falters? Will the reaction to their story cause them to retreat to the shadows from whence they came as an act of self-protection? And ultimately, will they make a difference?
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I decided to share the story of my mental illness and recovery in the best way I knew how – by writing. It was incredibly painful to be submerged in the past I had risen above, but it brought a cathartic feeling of relief once I resurfaced. Submitting my story was done with a held breath and no sigh of relief; I was honestly terrified.
Reading my own words after the launch of my post made me feel separate from myself. I could not believe the history described was my own. Sharing the post amongst my social media followers caused my hands to shake in terror. Waiting for the response was harrowing. When my friends and family started chiming in, I was overwhelmed, but not necessarily in a bad way.
The family and friends closest to me obviously knew of my illness. They were with me through every step of recovery. And yet, there were still certain aspects of my story I had never before shared with them.
The compassion, love, and understanding which had surrounded me so thoroughly for so long rose to new levels as their appreciation for exactly what I had overcome was brought to light. I was reduced to tears on multiple occasions as they expressed just how much I meant to them and just how proud they were of me. It multiplied my love and gratitude for them a trillion times over. Without them, I would still be lost, and it was incredible to feel the strength of our connections reinforced.
Sharing my story more deeply with my loved ones conclusively proved I will never, ever be alone.
Others in my life knew small bits and pieces of my story, but nothing of the intensity of my experiences. So many reacted with such incredible enthusiasm and encouragement, I felt literally blown away. Many of these people are friends who have become close in the short while and have only known me in recovery form. They know the positive and optimistic me who is prone to dark days every so often, but they knew nothing of the me who was held captive by terror.
To them, my story was a reflection of my victory, and empowered me to see my courage as something remarkable.
But the reactions of the acquaintances who knew nothing of my past struggles and the strangers who reached out because of my writing surprised me most. I will never forget the coworker who, upon our next meeting, leapt up from her chair to hug me and tell me how inspired she was.
Similarly remarkable were the conversations with other acquaintances looking for help facing their struggles. The stories from perfect strangers who contacted me about similar stories humbled me beyond belief; they showed me the power words can have in building a world of acceptance.
I never received negative criticism after sharing my story. Originally, I feared opening up would bring people to pity me, treat me differently, or ask me questions I was uncomfortable answering. But by presenting it with confidence and standing tenaciously steadfast against adversity while braced for the worst, I treated my past with respect and was met with respect in the response of others. If anything, others treated me with less caution than they had previously.
To anyone contemplating emerging from silence and voicing their story of struggle and victory, I would highly encourage doing so. Dredging up the memories will likely be the most painful part of your experience. I guarantee the benefits of sharing your courage far outweigh this heartache.
With every extra voice standing up in chorus, we gain more power. Soon, this stigma will be broken, and yours can be the voice which causes the glass to shatter.
You have conquered far worse than this final barrier to freedom. Do not worry about the aftermath, your fellow survivors will be there to catch you should you fall. And who knows, you may end up soaring on the wings of your own strength.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.