Crumpled paper on the ground. Broken. Damaged. Wilted. Ignored. Devoid of all hope, all joy, all recognition. A stranger looking back from the mirror. Wasteland. Winter's icy fingers caressing your tear streaked face. Frozen in place. Haunted. Afraid. Ashamed. Muted. Alone.....
This is what it feels like to suffer from mental illness. And it doesn't have to be that way.
Guilty. Dysfunctional. Lost. Less than. Worthless. Pathetic. Unlovable. Untreatable. Loser. Ugly. Bad. Fractured. Failure. Baggage, A Burden. Stupid. Invisible. Forgotten...
This is what we think about ourselves. And it doesn't have to be that way.
Pain. Agony. Misery. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. Loneliness. Fear. Anxiety. Fatigue. Loss. Lethargy. Stigma. Judgment. Abandonment. Grief. Paranoia. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear....
This is what we go through. And it doesn't have to be that way.
You see, we are afraid. We are afraid to be judged. To be abandoned. Forgotten. We are afraid of being told we are not good enough. That we don't matter. We are afraid of the sideways glances, the snide mumbles whispered quietly under your breath, the wary eyed looks from strangers, the mistrust. We are afraid of being ostracized and stigmatized yet again by people that don't understand, can't understand, or simply don't want to understand.
We feel alone. In a room crowded with people. We are the odd man out, the recluse, the sore thumb that rises above everyone else. The oddity, the abnormality, the freak. As the crowd cajoles and laughs and parties we are the person standing awkwardly alone in the corner trying to figure out how we could possibly measure up to all of the normal people having a perfectly normal time. And we judge ourselves for lacking to understand just what it is that makes us so damn odd. We hate it. We feel out of place. We feel wrong and obtruse. Our palms get sweaty and our mouths become dry.We hate the silence that accompanies the fear that allows us to concentrate on the loud thumping of our hearts that have risen in our throats, threatening to choke away the very air we breathe. We look around at all of the smiling faces and instead of feeling like everyone else, we feel broken and less than. Like tarnished silver in a room full of polished gold. And we don't understand why we can't feel shiny and new too. Why we can't smile like everyone else. You know, a real smile that actually meets the eyes. Not the forced smile we paint on our faces everyday to make it appear everything is just fine. Just fine. We are always just fine....to everyone else....except deep down....we know different.
Deep down we want to tell someone that we are not Just Fine. We want to reach out for help. We want to yell and scream from the rooftops that we are anything but just fine. We want to be understood and accepted. We long to be consoled and held and be told that we are not alone. That we are not broken. That we are not forgotten. That our pain is not invisible. We want to broadcast the truth. We want to explain, that not all wounds are visible. Not all illnesses are "physical". Not everyone is just fine, no matter how much they pretend to be...That we are the walking wounded, the mentally scarred. We are the people that live fractured lives, smiling fractured smiles, telling fractured lies, pretending to be whole. We are not whole. We don't even remember what whole is anymore. And it doesn't have to be that way.
We are not the scary monsters that lurk in the shadows waiting to swallow your children up. We are not the deranged ax wielding maniacs of the movies. We are not the dangerous violent caricatures media paints us out to be and we would tell you that....if you would only listen.....and not be frightened. Not be alarmed. Not be terrified to be in the same room with us...or worse yet, ashamed to be seen with us.
I keep reading the words MENTAL ILLNESS NEEDS LESS TALK AND MORE ACTION, and I am confused. Dumbfounded. Uncertain. Yes, there should be more action. More money funneled down into the system to help us. More beds open to receive those of us that have reached the thin red line of sanity. Those who are no longer sure what reality is or if they even want to stay in reality at all. There should be better resources, better coverage, and more doctors and staff. We should not be treated as criminals because no one knows what to do with us and locked in a jail cell because there is simply nowhere else to put us. All the beds are full. There is no room to hold us. There is no place for us to go in emergencies. There should be more action. To help us. To save us. To treat us...but how can there be more action if there is no talk to go with it?
How can there be understanding if there is no dialogue to explain what mental illness is like? What we feel. The issues we deal with. The fear that mitigates everything we do. How can we help ourselves if we remain silent? Mental illness isn't the killer. Not by itself anyway. The real killer, the real murderer in our lives is silence. The fear of what others incorrectly think mental illness says about us as a person, the fear of being judged and abandoned, the fear of the wary eyed glances and shifty stares. The fear of the stigma keeps us silent. The silence keeps us sick. The sickness makes us feel alone and broken. The brokenness slowly kills our soul, our self worth, and our resolve to keep going. The silence corrupts our ability to speak out and get help. It prevents us from supporting each other. It stops our ability to network and inform. It kills our belief in hope. And hope is the most important tool that we have. Hope for a new tomorrow. Hope for a new day. Hope that we can get better. Hope that we are going to have more good days than bad. Hope that we can live free of discrimination and judgment by others. Hope that somehow, somewhere there will be a better understanding of us and all that we go through. That we will one day be viewed like everyone else and not be feared or looked upon as violent offenders, when most of us are neither violent or offensive. If we do not speak, then our voices remain muted. If we do not open the conversation then no one will ever know that we are not just fine. That we are suffering. That we are in pain.
Not to mention, if we do not speak up then we can not correct the grievous mistakes that have been perpetrated against us. The bias, the discrimination, the incorrect preconceived notions, the misconceptions, and false fears. We can not teach the world that mental illness is not the thing of beasts or the creator of violence. It does not make us scary, dangerous, or evil. How do we teach the public that mental illness is a physical misfiring of the brain waves? A malfunction of the cerebral cortex? How can we show the world that mental illness is not just a way to seek attention or something that is just in our heads? How do we explain that mental illness is no different than diabetes, or HIV, or a birth defect except that it is located in our brains? How do we get more support and understanding if we simply cease to speak about it? If we hide behind fear and stigma? If we allow the silence to rule our lives and slowly strangle the fight away from us?
We don't have to feel this way. We don't have to remain miserable. We don't have to be scared or lonely. We don't have to believe the self hate and self deprecation that we have told ourselves for years. We don't have to be afraid to reach out for help, or to support each other, or even to speak about why we are not just fine. We do not have to remain muted and suffer in silence like our parents, our grand parents, and all of those that suffered before us. We do not have to live in shame and be ashamed of what we have. We do not have to live in fear of stigma and judgment and misconceptions, but to do that we have to stop being silent. You can not teach if you do not speak. You can not explain if you have no voice. We can not change the world by action alone. We have to open the conversation first. We have to be willing to lay it all out on the line and be honest. We have to stop saying that we are just fine when we aren't. We have to put down the paper dolls and toy trains and stop pretending. We have to realize that we are only forgotten and invisible if we allow ourselves to fade away into the darkness by accepting the stigma. By ceasing to speak out. By remaining willfully silent. We have to stop allowing the stigma to dictate our lives. We are not tarnished silver. We are not broken people. We are not crumpled paper on the ground. We are good, decent, strong human beings and we matter. We are valid and the only way other people will understand that is if we stand up and start talking about it. There is nothing shameful about asking for help. The is nothing shameful in standing up for yourself and there is nothing shameful in having a mental illness.
That saying shouldn't be MENTAL ILLNESS LESS TALK AND MORE ACTION it should say MENTAL ILLNESS MORE TALK AND MORE ACTION. Because we deserve both the right to get better help and the right to talk openly about why we need that help. Without fear of judgment. Without fear or retaliation. Without fear of being misunderstood or discriminated against.
We all suffer. Some of us are more open about it, some of us are more private about it but none of us should suffer in silence. It doesn't have to be that way and it shouldn't be that way either.