1. People may start to distance themselves from you.
This is one of the hardest parts about speaking up about your mental illness. Mental illness is scary. What people don’t understand though is that if it’s scary to hear about, imagine how much scarier it is to be the one going through it. And more than that, how much scarier it is to go through it alone. And nonetheless, people shy away from you. Mental illness is a disease, a sickness. And sickness, sometimes a life long battle against sickness, can intimidate even the strongest of people. The thing is, those of us who suffer from mental illness don’t have the choice to get up one day and just walk away from it. The people around us on the other hand; do. At any given moment they have the choice to walk away from us, from our illnesses, and never come back. As awful as that sounds, it’s true. It’s unfortunate. But the thing is, there is a certain beauty that is revealed when some people leave, and you find yourself surrounded by the people who have decided to stay. Those are the people who deserve to be in your life. Remember that. If they won’t stand by you at your worst, they don’t deserve you when you heal and are basking in the light at the end of the tunnel.
2. Your family and friends may blame themselves.
Unfortunately, mental illness often times is triggered by something. Not just one thing though- it’s usually what I like to call the “perfect storm” of events and factors that play into the development of a mental illness. When we speak up about our struggles though, those who love us often do not understand that there is not one single cause for the disease you suffer from. So as a means to try to explain why someone they love so deeply is struggling so immensely, they blame themselves. They think of what could have been, or what they should have done, and it’s hard to explain to them that they are not to blame, and no one is. Blame often comes from a lack of understanding; so do not be discouraged by this. Just as love can heal you, it can also help to heal their sense of guilt. So fill them up with truths and knowledge, and let love envelop them with the reminder they need that they are not at fault.
3. People accuse you of “just wanting attention.”
This is one of the biggest challenges to deal with I think. I don’t know how many times I’ve been called an “attention whore” for starting to speak up about my struggles. Some people just don’t get it. And that’s okay. If they don’t get it instead of getting angry with them, we must simply consider them blessed. We should be happy for them. Because not being able to understand mental illness is a blessing. To fully understand, you have to have experienced it, and that is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
4. You start to silence the stigma.
There is a great deal of power that comes with talking about such a taboo topic. Not only do you shed light and spread awareness, but also you become a voice for all those who have had theirs stolen by mental illness. Instead of the sufferers being silenced, it is the stigma that becomes silent. And to silence something as loud as stigma, is a very courageous thing to do. There is power in your voice- the power to do good- and that is a gift that should never be wasted.
5. The amount of people who reach out to you can be overwhelming.
It really can. When you speak up, others who hear your voice see you as a safe place to share theirs. They may not be in a place to spread hope yet by speaking about their experiences publicly. In fact most of them reach out to you in a time of desperation and hopelessness. And while we can be a source of encouragement for them, sometimes it is exhausting to always be helping others and we forget to make time to help ourselves too. This is important to remember, that although we are in a good place now, we still need to take care of ourselves to remain in this place. Always know that you are not in charge of saving others, you can’t save them to be honest. But you can love them, and walk with them as they save themselves.
6. But at the same time, it’s the most rewarding thing in the world.
For every ounce of stress that comes with people reaching out, there is a million times more reward to have others come to you. It’s important to have boundaries, but all in all, knowing you’re a safe place for them is such a special feeling. Your voice is helping them, and you have the power to help them help themselves. As stressful as it is, and as much as sometimes you may wish you kept your mouth shut, nothing can compare to being told, “because of you, I didn’t give up.”
7. You create new hope.
As much as there may be backlash, what there is more of is hope. And a single ray of hope makes any backlash pale in comparison. I guess what I’m trying to say is that speaking up is scary, and at times incredibly painful. But it also brings to your life a great deal of meaning and a special kind of experience that is worth every bit of the negative parts that come with it. Don’t be scared away by the voices that say it’s not worth it, because I promise you it’s so worth it; YOU are so worth it.
8. You realize your story is significant.
Not only do you create hope, but also you start to realize something. Your story that you once thought was meaningless, obsolete, and all together hopeless, is a story that now you see incredible significance in. The pain starts to make sense, the hurt starts to subside, and what you’re left with is the empowering feeling of knowing it all finally makes sense.
9. You begin to heal.
Last but not least, the healing that comes with sharing your story is a healing that can only be brought on by just that. It’s a type of healing that can’t quite be put into words because it’s so magical. The healing is intense, and sometimes exhausting, but most of all it’s beautiful. Oh God, its beautiful. The moment you choose to spread the hope and truth of your experiences is perhaps the exact moment that you begin to truly heal. When you stop hiding in shame you allow yourself the opportunity to experience true healing. And you deserve that; you deserve to heal fully and completely. And don’t you dare forget it.