As I enter 2018 I am struck by a simple idea that I would like to guide me through this year. Actually, I’d like it to guide me through my life, but let’s just begin with this year. The concept of vulnerability is one that I first discovered when watching a Ted Talk’s video online. This is place I go to for inspiration and insight, particularly when times are tough. I encourage others to do so, because, every once in a while, something touches me to my very core.
Brene Brown is a qualitative researcher and she speaks to the topic of vulnerability in a way that exemplifies everything that I hold as a core value. It is the reason I write these blogs, it is the reason I advocate for mental health awareness, it is the reason that I share my stories. I believe these things are good for my soul and ultimately the true heart of ending stigma and creating community.
The truth is however, that being vulnerable is never easy. When do I share my stories and bare my soul to the world. Who can I trust to show compassion and how do I know that someone may not laugh or think I am “craving attention”, when I all want is to feel as though I am not alone. Having mental illness is often overwhelming and having to feel as though it is a secret and something of which to be ashamed, makes the struggle absolutely daunting.
We all have something in common. Those of us who suffer, who manage, who know someone who suffers, who have watched someone suffer and simply stood by, not knowing how or why to help. Those of us who are scared of mental illness, don’t understand, have had terrible moments of grief and despair as a result of mental illness and those of us who have had momentous moments of triumph as a result of mental illness. We all have a story. And if we are brave enough we can share that story and be willing to be judged and be willing to feel naked amongst a group of people who may not understand or feel any compassion or empathy.
However, I also believe with great sincerity that if we speak out, if we share our stories (the good and the bad), that we take mental illness from a topic of illness and turn it into a topic of people. It is no longer a distant and scary topic, but a story of your Aunt Janice, or you sister, your uncle, your father, your classmate, your professor, your grocery store clerk, your neighbor, your mailman. In taking a chance to be vulnerable we gain understanding and insight and hopefully we gain a sense of belonging. The community of mental health advocates is greater than we realize, and being brave enough to bare your soul, may make you fortunate enough to find a place of belonging and understanding.