I used to feel like I was branded, like people could see my mental illness stamped on my face, clear as day. So I used to hide. Hide behind the jokes, hide behind the excuses and hide in the dark of long nights.
Things were hard, and they kinda still are, but nowhere as bad as they used to be and that's down to one thing. I started to talk. You see, perspective changes everything. You talk to someone and ask them to look closer and soon they realise that it's not actually a brand on your face, but rather a scar, you've seen battle.
These battles come in many forms. No battle is too small and every fight is worth talking about. Sharing your story is adding another brother or sister in arms. You might think you can do it alone, and maybe that's possible, who's to say? But the real question is why should you? When you could make it so much easier by sharing it with someone else?
So how about I put my money where my mouth is and share with you the story of one of my biggest battles, one many can relate to. My experience of school.
As 1 of 5 black kids in the entire school, I was from Sudan, spoke with an American accent, a squeaky voice and wearing hand-me-down clothes from a middle-aged support worker. I got picked on a lot. Even some teachers couldn't find it in their hearts to accept me. School seemed like a giant, scary monster that only ever grew more fangs.
I felt so alone all the time. A lot of the time I’d walk around by myself at night, those walks home around Christmas time were worst. I would walk past row after row of happy family homes and force myself not to stare or look in. I would imagine what it would be like to live in one of those houses, to come home to a nice living room, maybe a dog. Above all, I would feel safe.
Broken. Now that's a word that many of us who struggle with mental illness can relate to. This feeling first came to me from my lack of understanding of what was wrong with me. Why did I feel so sad all the time? Why couldn't I enjoy life like all the other kids? Why did the world feel so irrationally terrifying? I'm not saying that being diagnosed with anxiety and depression made it all go away. It didn't, but what it did do was make me realise that this was something beyond my control. More importantly, it showed me that it's something that I can get over. That diagnosis allowed me to breath the sigh of relief that comes with taking the first step on a journey. A journey that I couldn't wait to see through, because I knew at the end of that road, I can pick up a mirror to see myself smiling.
When you’re feeling like I did back then, you might feel like you’re broken, like you can't put yourself back together, but another person can sit down on the floor next to you and help you pick up the pieces. They aren't there to judge, but to try and make you feel whole again. You let someone in and they let you in and slowly the world becomes a better place.
Finding someone to talk to is not an easy task because you are trusting them with your inner most thoughts. Don't rush into it. Take your time and build up the courage to do something brave, open up and when you're ready, you tell them of those battles. You tell them of the things that haunt you every day and night. At first, this won't come easy, but you take it in your stride and soon the letters will become words, the words become sentences and the sentences turn into stories.
Just think about it for a second. How would you feel if you could tell someone all those things make your heart so heavy? Can you feel how even the fantasy begins to loosen your chest? If you feel like you might want to take that next step, then it’s time to talk: it really could change your life.
We talk and we listen. In the darkness, one by one, like fireflies, we'll glow bright until we end the stigma.