Living a life with an ever-present fear of revealing a certain secret part of yourself isn’t truly living. I know, because I’ve been there. Being caught up in an inauthentic version of myself wasn’t the way I wanted to live my life. And so I made some changes. The results were incredible.
At twenty-six years old, newly married and at the peak of my career as an agency recruiter, I was hit with mania. It came without warning, and felt exactly the same as slipping on black ice and landing flat on my back, the wind sucked out of my lungs and a searing pain pulsing through my bones. I was terrified of what was happening in my brain. I had lost control of everything and my career and reputation were on the line, not to mention my relationship with my husband who didn’t see this coming.
How would I ever recover from this mess?
I would, although recovery eluded me several times. Following my diagnosis, I spent a full year in what felt like an extended visit to a deserted island: the isle of depression. It seemed like no one could possibly understand what I was feeling. I fought waves of anxiety each morning, and would calm myself down from my afternoon anxiety by collapsing on the couch in front of the television, tears soaking the oversized pillow which my head rested on.
I saw many doctors, so many that I can’t remember most of their names. My parents pushed for second, third, fourth opinions. Not because they didn’t trust the doctor’s opinions, but because we hadn’t figured out what would bring me back to my baseline. My normal. Finally, after seeing one of the top doctors in our area, a national specialist in the study of bipolar disorder, I was ready to follow his advice, the same medication recommendation that the previous few psychiatrists had been urging me to try.
Within two months I felt better than I had felt in an entire year. Slivers of my old personality were coming back. When I laughed, it felt genuine and amazing, better than it had felt even before I became sick. When several weeks had passed and I realized I hadn’t cried, I was shocked. The drug was actually working for me.
There would be two more hospitalizations in the years that followed, only because I had taken myself off my medication during pregnancy to protect my kids. When my daughter was only 8 months old, I decided I was ready to tell my story in order to help other women who might think they couldn’t have a family because of their mental illness. I launched my blog and began writing, but kept my identity a secret because I feared the repercussions of the stigma associated with mental illness.
I kept writing and sharing my experience as a mom raising two small kids while at the same time managing my bipolar disorder and over the next year and a half, I realized that keeping my identity a secret was only adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was a part of my life and I wanted to show society that I’m a real person with real emotions and I believe that people who live with mental illness should be treated like any other person living with any other life-long disease. We didn’t ask for these conditions we were dealt, and the last thing we need is for society to look the other way when we’re suffering and need support to find recovery.
I was no longer ashamed.
And so in April of 2013, I announced on my blog that I was “ready to not be anonymous anymore,” and I took a brave stand against stigma. The support that poured in from my family and friends, and people I didn’t even know but who had read my post, was overwhelming. The words of gratitude for sharing my story so courageously were like fuel to me, as I kept writing about my experiences and connecting with people who appreciated my transparency.
Six months ago I launched a project and couldn’t have imagined the response it has generated. This Is My Brave is a live theater production where people from the community will take turns at the microphone to share their story on stage via personal essays, original music and slam poetry. This Is My Brave is more than just a one-time performance. We have become a platform and a community for people living with mental illness to speak out in an effort to end the stigma associated with brain illnesses.
Our mission is to ignite and actively promote―through actions and social media― a positive, supportive national conversation about mental illness for those who live with, or love someone who lives with, a brain illness. Through the sharing of stories and experiences of those in recovery, we expect to provide a sense of community and hope; encouraging others to share their stories. We believe that each time one of us talks openly about living with mental illness, we create another crack which helps to break down the stigma. We’re currently in the process of converting to a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and have been actively planning the pursuit of our mission beyond the debut of This Is My Brave in Arlington on May 18th.
It’s time we bring mental health issues into the spotlight because they’ve been in the dark too long. Please visit www.thisismybrave.com to learn more about the show. Auditions are currently being scheduled (www.thisismybrave.com/auditions) and tickets to attend the show are on sale now at EventBrite.com.