Ok – real talk.
Maybe this is because I’ve surrounded myself with more mental health advocates lately, but I think that society, as a whole, is slowly getting better at talking about not only mental illness, but also mental health. What people don’t always talk about, though, is how damn scary it is to share your own story and your own struggles. For me, anyways, this is the case for a variety of reasons. So here it is – me sharing my story of sharing my story (confused yet?... me too), and the aftermath of doing this.
So, why was I afraid? I’ve thought about this a lot, and this is what I think made me the most anxious about it:
1) What if people judge me?
This was a hard one. Though it’s not much different from what I think to myself on a daily basis, somehow it seemed more personal this time. I was worried that if people found out I was struggling, they would define me by my illness, and honestly, I was just learning not to do that. But if people are going to judge me for this part of my story, I probably don’t want them in my life anyways.
2) I can’t control who shares this.
Posting your story on the internet is scary. It could literally go anywhere. That thought scared me. But it was also exciting. I am where I am today because of the people, like Kayley and Kyle, who were transparent about their struggles and unapologetically lived through them. These beautiful people used their stories to empower themselves and others. The thought of people who really needed to hear my story gave me butterflies in my stomach (the good ones).
3) What if a future employer sees this and doesn’t want me because of it?
This one was tricky. I want to work in the mental health industry, so on the one hand it would be super weird if someone judged me for living with a mental illness (see #1). But I thought that somehow this would impact my chances of getting in to grad school, or getting hired in the future. Then I thought about it – I really don’t want to work for someone who would treat their employees that way. I want to work in a place where I am free to express what I am going through (WYL is LITERALLY the best company I could ever imagine being involved with for a million reasons, but this is definitely one of them). WYL taught me that not only is it okay for me to have struggled, but that my story can make me an asset. This is something that my former employer always expressed to me, and I’m finally coming to believe it. Take me or leave me, fam, this is who I am and I am finally so proud of myself for that.
4) What if people start thinking “Ally, would you stop talking about mental health already?! You’re anxious… WE KNOW”?
I decided a while ago that this thought is self-stigma. If someone doesn’t like me talking about mental health, it doesn’t mean I should stop starting those conversations. If no one spoke up for fear of backlash, we wouldn’t have any change agents. So, yeah, I talk about mental health a lot. But someone has to.
So, the aftermath? These are the highlights:
1) Seriously, I have had dozens of people reach out to me.
And I think I’ve only received a handful of negative comments. So many people have thanked me. I never thought that my story could inspire others. So many people have reached out to me to say keep talking, or that something I said one day helped them find a little bit of hope. That’s amazing, and makes my heart so full. It’s the people, every day, who make me so grateful I was brave enough to share my story in the first place (and even took that leap to apply to WYL).
2) I finally feel free.
I hate that expression, because mental illness sucks. It’s not a glamorous, help-me-find-myself thing- but in a way, it kind of is. It made me finally listen to my body and my mind, and trust myself. Since sharing my story, I finally feel like I can be open and honest with people. Things like “I am actually just going to take a mental health day”, “I can go with you, but I’m really anxious today, so can we sit near the door?” aren’t scary for me to say anymore. When people ask me to do things, I think well, you already know this about me, so you must be okay with me. And as backwards-thinking as that may be, I feel free to be me. I don’t feel like my illness is controlling me because I no longer give it that power. Sharing my story allowed me to truly take ownership of my story and use my struggles to empower me, not tear me down.
3) It has brought me amazing friends.
Seriously. AMAZING. They “get it”, I know they aren’t going to leave me, and I know they love me for me- all of me. I have one incredible friend (Laura Lowe – she’s a WYL role model and you should totally check her out), who sent me a letter this summer saying “I love you for YOU – all of you, struggles and all. Don’t forget it.” Oh goodness, if you find people like that in your life, never let them go. I was literally lying on my friend’s floor the other day, an anxiety burrito, and she just knew what I needed. She knows what to say, because she gets it. I have met some amazing people through WYL, who I know will be my friends for a long time to come, and I have a WYL co-campus rep who is literally my spirit animal.
4) After sharing my story, I know where I want to be.
I never knew what I wanted to do before I found WYL. But seeing the impact one little idea or phrase can have on someone’s life… I now know I want to create those moments. Not only that, but I now know that I can. I found my voice.
So, do I regret sharing my story?
No. Sure, some days I think of what it would be like to crawl back into my safe little shell. But that’s not going to help me grow into the strong woman I am becoming. I constantly surprise myself and the people I’m meeting along the way make it all worth it. It’s okay to be afraid, little fighter, but remember that regardless of what you choose to share (if anything) you matter, you are enough, and only you can define you.
Written by Dalhousie University Campus Rep, Ally Geist