It’s an honor to write this blog post in honor of National Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 5-11) and the publication of Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the silence about mental illness, family, and church.
Today I met with undergraduates at a small liberal arts college to talk about mental illness.
I shared with them that for so long I wore a mask to hide my pain. I didn’t want anyone to know that my life was not perfect, that my family life was really broken, that my father was psychotic and homeless, that my brother attempted suicide more times than I even know, and that my cousin was a mentally ill murderer that was executed.
As a Christian and as a minister, I didn’t want anyone to know these things about me.
And I felt very alone hiding behind this smiling mask of perfection.
Breaking the silence for me is about taking off the mask and letting myself be known and seen.
Breaking the silence about mental illness is about creating community.
After I shared a little of my story with the students, I listened to them.
I listened deeply to stories about childhood trauma caused by a parents with untreated severe mental illness.
I heard questions about whether or not prayer alone can cure mental illness.
I heard the whispering voice of a young woman who is a mental health consumer say to me alone afterwards, “thank you.”
So we need each other. We need to hear that we are not alone, that we are not the only one, that it is okay to ask for help, that we can get better.
So now I am less alone after breaking the silence today.
We are less alone together. I am deeply thankful for the love of family and friends who have supported me and truly carried me to this place of healing and hope.
And I think I left my mask on the floor in the guest room closet. I’ve come out of my closet of shame and secrecy about mental illness. I’m ready to stand and walk in the light. Once you’ve taken off the mask, you wonder how you could ever breath with it on. Once you leave the safety of the closet, you wonder how you managed not to suffocate.
I find great freedom in the telling of how things really are on the inside. I feel more connected to others in our common human struggles.
Mental illness tricks us into thinking we are stronger if we fight it alone. That’s a lie. We are stronger together.