Author: Valery B.
On the first day of my new job as a busser, I was talking with the restaurant owner’s son – a man of 40-years-old, who happens to have “some knowledge” on mental health – about the various mental illnesses I had gone through in the past four years. The topic was brought up when he asked me about high school, wrongly believing that I had the perfect experience, so I explained to him what I usually explain to anybody else who asks me about my past. I told him about my struggle with anorexia and bulimia, mentioning that I was hospitalized, rigorously treated, and that I am still recovering. I talked about my current struggle with depression and social anxiety and how I am working every day on improving my conditions and becoming the strong and happy young woman I know I am meant to be. The only thing I left out of the conversation was my bout with suicide: the suicidal ideations I had struggled with and once even acted upon earlier in the year.
The man was taken aback, but not by the fact that a girl like me, who came to work with a friendly face and a contagious energy, could be affected by so many illnesses. Rather, he was astonished by the “confidence” I exerted when talking about my conditions. His words to me after I disclosed were, “You seem to have so much confidence in…” your illnesses, what you have gone through, etc. – the ending of which I do not remember verbatim.
Confidence. It is definitely not the word I would have used to describe my openness and candor. Frankly, hearing him say that to me – with a smirk on his face, I may add – angered and upset me. I quickly followed his comment with an explanation of my mental health advocacy work, that I have been speaking about my experiences and vocalizing a need for more awareness and education in order to help those people who struggle in silence and who believe they are alone.
Now, there is indeed some truth to his statement. I will admit that I speak with a certain sternness and boldness when discussing my past. But, I do this with the intent of de-stigmatizing a topic that has, for far too long, been buried hundreds of feet beneath the ground. I do this so that people realize that there is nothing to be ashamed about in regards to mental health. If you or someone you know has dealt with or are currently dealing with a mental illness, you are not only not alone, but also not any less than any other human being on this planet. Through my – I guess I must say -“confidence”, I strive to make sure people know that this is something we can and we must talk about openly.
It did not take me long to realize that advocating for mental health was something I wanted to do. Even back when I was very ill with anorexia and bulimia, I knew that I wanted to delineate mental illnesses because they are little (or big) monsters that anybody, regardless of age, sex, race, nationality, religion and the like, can be affected by. When I was spiraling down the ladder of mental illness, I had nobody to bolster me up, to offer me support, and to show me that I was not alone. I spent almost two years listening to my family judge and criticize me for “not eating” when I was being affected by eating disorders, for “doing this to myself”, for “pitying myself”, for “not being strong enough to push through my pain”. I spent even more years around “friends” who would not even reach out when they saw me isolating, missing school, becoming weaker and weaker. They were not informed, aware or educated on what was happening to me.
I look back on these times, and I realize how unfair this was to me. I was scared. I was alone. And, through it all, I had absolutely no one who could help and understand.
For the reason that nobody deserves to feel like they are alone or that recovery is implausible, I will continue talking about my experiences. If my talking comes off as “confident” or stern, I will pat myself on the back: even better, I will say! I want people to realize that I am “confident” because I want to share that confidence with the world so that others can be open about their experiences with mental health as well.
It is time we open the door to a subject that has far too long been stigmatized and abused. It all starts with one story, one shared experience, to get the world talking and becoming more aware.