“So what do you do?” Wearing a chocolate brown smock with my wet hair up in clips I smile and say, “I do lots of things. It is complicated.” My new hairstylist nodded. Within thirty seconds our conversation landed on the topic of mental health.
“I have a story that no one knows. Not anyone outside my family. We don’t tell anyone,” she said. And then with her voice just above a whisper, while spinning me around to get the right angle, she shared her secret. As I listened to the details of her story I heard in her voice and saw in her eyes and felt in my spirit how deeply this secret haunts her.
“It is very sad,” I said about the suffering she shared. We agreed that not many people seemed to understand the real pain caused by severe and chronic mental illness.
“Thank you,” I said. “For sharing your story with me. You inspire me and remind me how important it is to tell our stories.”
I confess that at first I feared entering into this intense conversation with my stylist (a stranger I had just met) with sharp objects near my scalp. But rather than lose her focus as she talked, she seemed to be even more present as she revealed a hidden part of herself to me.
I don’t know if I will see her again. But I do know that her story will stay with me. And my faith in the redemptive power of story grows. The pain may still reside within the heart broken by mental illness, but it no longer aches alone. In the shared story, isolation is overcome and in the broken places, hope can begin to breathe again.