I can write about what I go through, about the depression, the anxiety, the mania, but when it comes to speaking about my mental illness I’m at a loss. It’s hard to talk in person about what it means to be mentally ill. Hell, it’s hard even admitting face to face to someone that I am mentally ill. I fear what they will think, what they will say. The stigma of mental illness still haunts my conversations.
I don’t want people I work with to know I am mentally ill, that I have bi-polar II and generalized anxiety disorder. It makes it sound like I can’t work, that I am incapable. Even though it’s non-discriminatory work place, it still feels like there would be backlash that I don’t want. And I don’t want people at church to hear about my mental illness and somehow judge the quality of my faith because of it, somehow call my relationship with God as subpar and lacking.
It’s hard to speak about my mental illness.
But I need to learn to speak about it, to own in in the face to face world. It’s one thing to own it here, behind these words I type out. It’s a whole other brave to speak the words out loud to people whose eyes you can see. It’s a whole other fear.
There is a conference coming up in my area about mental illness and the church. In a room full of strangers, I am going to stand up for ten minutes and talk about my mental illness journey. Everyone who is there is is going to see my face and know that I have a mental illness. Everyone there is going to know that I sit among them and that I am mentally ill. While I am excited about this conference, I can’t tell you the fear of owning my mental illness in person.
I still fear the stigma that comes with mental illness. I’m still trying to untangle all the lies about it that I believed for so long. I’m still afraid of what my diagnosis means for my life, my family, my future.
The longer I knowingly live with my disease the more I know what it means fir me to live with a mental illness. It means irrational anger. It means days missed from work. It means crushing depression. It means missing social activities. It means navigating the ball of dread that sits in my chest. It means emotional pain. It means fighting suicide at times. It means medications and treatment so I can live as close to healthy as possible. All of these things and more are what I mean when I tell someone I have a mental illness. I am letting them into this world of chaos and healing. Letting people into that is a scary thing, even after I have written about it and been interviewed about life with mental illness. It’s always a scary thing when someone new can label me mentally ill.
I’m not my diagnosis, but I fear that people don’t always know that. I fear that all people can or will see of me is my disease. With each new person I tell, it is a new chance for either acceptance as someone with a chronic, invisible illness or rejection as weak, sick, being over dramatic, or any other of the ways people write of mental illness.
This is why I am afraid to stand up in front of a group of strangers and let them all into my world, to tell them I have a bi-polar mood disorder and a generalized anxiety disorder. I am going to stand there, emotionally naked on stage and for ten minutes tell people about my disorders.
I am very afraid.
I’m trusting bravery to win out in this. I want to stand up and talk about life with my disorders. I want to break the stigma that I (still) so fear. So, I will stand up in a room full of strangers and be emotionally naked for ten minutes and talk about my life with bipolar and anxiety. Even though I am afraid. Even though it’s not a safe thing to do. Even though it scares the hell out of me, this is something I must and will do.
Maybe after this conference I can be braver face to face with people. Maybe I can talk about my mental illness better, with less fear and trembling. Maybe with practice it will get easier to talk about my disorders. Either way, I will be vulnerable, step out and speak, because I don’t want stigma and fear to win.