Speaking Our Truth
By: Alyssa Newman
What I’m about to say might seem controversial to those who don’t live with a mental
illness or disability, or to those still struggling with the stigma of both. I get it. I used to feel the same way. But then, I was given a piece of advice that changed me in a profound way.
“Grieve the things you have lost”.
That’s what my school counselor said to me when I was in the middle of my lowest-of-lows. Seems simple, right? Like it should be common sense, and it can be when the things you have lost are actual, tangible things. When it’s experiences, though? Time? Parts of yourself? That becomes a much harder concept to grasp.
So often we are told to “grin and bear it”. To smile through the hardships, stay optimistic, and focus on the good. I believe in that, but I also believe that you need to acknowledge the sadness and struggle of mental illness with equal measure. The problem with always being positive is that, in doing so, you disregard the very real pain that is affecting you. And, it is affecting you.
Heaviness, lack of motivation, no energy, aches, insomnia, oversleeping, eating too much, not eating enough, self-harm – all of these things and more are the physical effects of not dealing with your illness. Mentally, ignoring your struggle just makes the struggle worse. You doubt yourself, you hate yourself, you think you’re not enough. When you say “it’s not that bad” or hear “other people have it worse than you” from loved ones, it implies that what you’re going through isn’t valid. That it’s not real, that you have no right to be hurt, and that you’re weak for feeling any differently.
But, that’s just not true. Living with mental illness and disability is tough. They don’t define your life, but they do change it in ways that aren’t always happy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to cancel plans or give things up or spend my day in bed because of my illnesses. I can’t count the friendships I’ve lost or the years I’ve spent feeling like nothing or the things I’ve been too afraid to do because of the way my body and brain behave. I can tell you, though, that each and every single time that’s happened has been extremely hard. Before this advice, I didn’t want to face it. I couldn’t. I didn’t want people to think badly of me and I didn’t want to accept that I thought badly of myself.
But, being told that what I’m feeling is real and that I’m allowed to grieve those things lost along the way gave me permission to say just how much I was and still am struggling. I’m not ashamed to say that anymore and you shouldn’t be either. Hiding from mental illness is the reason society is ignorant to its’ reality. The only way we can change that is by speaking our truths. Don’t lie to make other people more comfortable. Don’t waste what little energy you have on pretending to feel okay. Be sad. Get angry. Let those feelings wash over you and just let go! Give yourself that time to grieve so you can then move on.
I know it’s scary to say out loud that you’re struggling or to let yourself cry about life not turning out how you expected. No one actually enjoys doing that. But, the feeling you get once you let it out is so worth it. There’s lightness and acceptance and closure. Then, you can focus on the positive because it will be genuine.
It’s like that cheesy saying about rainbows coming after a storm. Be that storm. Be rain, be thunder, be flashes of lightning, so you can get your rainbow. You deserve that rainbow.