This quote by Coretta Scott King changed my life at 3am; turning it into something remarkable, full of meaning and nothing I had ever envisioned.
What started as something fun and personal, one night evolved into my mental health advocacy work; now on both a local and national level. Recently I was asked why I am so comfortable sharing my journey. Without hesitation, I said because I can and I must. I am vocal because I know that so many cannot be. I recalled listening to friend share bits of his story admitting he could never share it with “the outsiders” for fear he would be fired from his job. I vowed to myself that I will never be silent living in a world where we cannot be our authentic selves.
I choose to share the story of my past struggles with depression and anxiety with the world a few months following a visit to the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. I had no idea that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was only 38 when he was assassinated. I was struck that someone my age could possess so much insight and wisdom. Reading the stories of not only Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, but leaders who spoke out about religious persecution and more, I noticed they shared two things in common. Their bravery was not without fear because lack of fears means the stakes aren’t high enough. They also did it for the greater good; their actions weren’t self-serving and were done without ever feeling shame. Slowly I began to proud of who I am. We were all put on this Earth a certain way for a reason.
I thought about how Dr. King’s approach applied to mental illness and how we are repeatedly oppressed, made fun of, and our illnesses used as derogatory terms. Just last week I heard a CNN commentator refer to the Trump Presidential campaign as schizophrenic. I was so taken aback, not by the politics but by the total disregard for those and their families who have been affected by this disorder. People have schizophrenia, campaigns CANNOT be schizophrenic. If our media doesn’t get it and aren’t held accountable for the use of such terms, how can we expect anyone else to be. And so for that, I chose to educate rather than complain.
I decided to let my story loose on the world because I had nothing to lose. After not being able to sleep one night, I scrolled through pics on phone of past family vacations and came across that quote by Mrs. King. I realized at that moment, if I was going to be an agent of change, then I was going have to be brave and true to myself. Yes, I was filled with great trepidation but something told me that I should never be ashamed of sharing my truth. If people are going to talk, they would talk anyway. If people were going to shun me, then that is a reflection of their own true self, not me.
I was met with love, compassion, and tons of people who privately revealed to me that they have been secretly living with mental illness. It was the most freeing moment of my life. I no longer worried what others thought of me or if there would be whispers in the carpool line or in the grocery store. I no longer cared if people would stare and point fingers. My soul was free and I was doing something for the greater good, something I knew could help people. My reward is in those lives my story has saved and my success reflects that I made the right decision.
I used to never believe having a mental illness could change a life for the better. I am the happiest I have ever been and for someone who lives with overwhelming anxiety, I have none. I’m not saying that everyone will have this reaction which is why I will continue to fight for those who cannot have such a liberating experience. I will be a voice for them. I will be brave for them. And I will continue to celebrate my truth.