The first time I tried to tell my story in my own voice with my own byline, I was a journalism student writing a piece about depression for my college magazine. While I was encouraged to share my story because it could help others, I was discouraged from attaching my name. My advisor was concerned about how I would be perceived by my peers.
I reluctantly agreed. I was nervous about speaking out so publicly and having my advisor discourage me from the get-go only confirmed that I would be seen differently. I didn’t want to be looked at with pity and sadness the way my advisor looked at me after reading my final draft. Once my story, “Feeling Blue,” was published in “Focus” magazine in the Spring of 1998, I immediately regretted seeing MY story without my name attached.
That magazine with my story inside now hangs above my desk as a reminder that not only does my story matter, but I should not be afraid or ashamed to tell it.
Twenty years later I still remember the shame and fear I felt as I tried to speak up and share my story. Back then it wasn’t called stigma like it is today, but it affected me the same. After that I continued to write my stories, but as fiction in third person or through poems. I still had stories to tell, even if I didn’t feel brave enough to say they were my own stories.
I could say that it was just my advisor’s discomfort or even what I believe were good intentions that kept me disconnected from my story, but it was also me. I didn’t have to concede to publishing anonymously.
I allowed his fear to become my own because I too was afraid of what my fellow students were going to think about me if they knew that I was struggling with my mental health on a daily basis. Stigma really is contagious and influences our thoughts, feelings and actions in ways we don’t even think about until the harm is done.
Since then I’ve done the work to recover and know how to cope with my mental health in a way I didn’t know how to back then. Writing about that recovery is how I started sharing my story in my voice again, which I shared in my first blog post, Disorderly Life: PTSD Recovery
I no longer feel compelled to hide behind an anonymous byline to share my story. I won’t be anonymous again. It’s MY story and I’m no longer afraid to tell it, which is why I also started writing stories for my memoir, “Disorderly Life,” which is about what I experienced living with and recovering from PTSD. The genesis of getting this project started is covered in an earlier blog post, Writing Jersey
When I first discovered This Is My Brave, I was immediately drawn to the inspiring work being done through storytelling to spread awareness about mental health and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness. Their hashtag #StorytellingSavesLives speaks to my own experience over the years. Reading other people’s stories, people I didn’t even know, helped me to not feel alone even in the scariest of times and inspired me to keep going and keep searching for a way to heal and recover.
I knew this could be an opportunity for me to share my story.
Back in March, auditions for a show in Philadelphia were being advertised. I really wanted to sign up, but felt a little conflicted and let’s be real, I was afraid. For a few reasons. One of which was the public speaking part, which is not one of my strengths anymore.
Writing my story in solitude or while with my writing group is one thing, but speaking in front of a crowd of people is entirely different. I’ve been interested in in public speaking, yet I wasn’t sure if I was ready. After a colleague encouraged me to audition, I signed up and started writing an essay to read at my audition, which I did two weeks later.
The day one of the co-producers called to welcome me to the cast, I was initially taken aback. Seemed surreal that this was actually going to happen. After the shock quickly wore off, I was thrilled. I was going to use MY voice to tell my story. Twenty years after the first time I tried to share my story publicly, I can say that I am no longer feeling blue, I’m feeling brave.