I’ve been so fortunate to reach a point in my life where talking about mental illness is generally more accepted.
I’ve spent most of my life keeping my mental illness to myself. Close friends and family knew of course, but that doesn’t mean that we talked about it much. As I am reaching the end of my 40s, I’ve been telling myself, if not now, when? In answer to that question – now – I have started to recognize the power in the stories of other people and their mental health issues.
I love to perform. Comedy and storytelling. When I perform I feel most like myself. I feel that I can disappear on stage if that makes any sense. I don’t become a character so much as a slightly bolder version of myself. I feel safe on stage. I feel like I can open up to the blackness in front of me knowing that there is an audience there willing to listen.
Lately, I have been producing a storytelling show (all proceeds go to programming for Art with Impact) that brings all kinds of people together to share their stories in one place. At first I was skeptical that anyone would show up and now, three shows in, I’m happy to say that people are coming and still more want to get up on the stage.
There is a community of people out there that have been waiting for the chance to share with others who can not only relate, but want to be supportive. For some, stigma has prevented them from opening up and for others, they just didn’t feel ready to talk until now. What an amazing gift. I see people younger than me getting up and spilling their guts on the stage and receiving such warmth and encouragement. I’ve seen people much older than me tell their stories and then shake with relief that finally, after all this time they have allowed themselves to be vulnerable.
We share stories about mental illness, but the underlying message is really about mental health. I think that if we start advocating more for good mental health practices, we can go a long way in diminishing the stigma attached to mental illness. This is where the root of the stigma happens. Mental illness = bad, scary, crazy. People don’t understand mental illness because they can’t see it. People don’t want to associate themselves with mental illness because it makes them uncomfortable.
The fact of the matter is this, we ALL have mental health and our brain is no different than our heart, liver or kidneys. Mental illness happens for many different reasons. Some chemical, some environmental and some situational. It doesn’t matter the source or the reason. What matters is that someone is suffering and in need. People have been sharing their cancer stories for years and that sense of sharing keeps people going. It inspires and motivates us as caregivers and members of our society. It makes us feel like good people to give.
In allowing ourselves to talk about mental health and more importantly, listen and learn about the mental health of ourselves and others, we find that same compassion we have for other illnesses. We create a safe space for people to talk about their fears (for themselves, for someone they care for, for their children). We have the opportunity to take away some of the isolation so many of us feel when we take a chance and open up. Even if we don’t ever choose to stand on a stage and share our stories, knowing that we are starting to do things like this is comforting.
My father was clinically depressed his entire life. He passed away in 2005. What he wouldn’t have given now to know that people were starting to accept these conversations and that more support is being given in this area than ever before.
My father lost his job three times due to his illness. He suffered in silence with only my mother to comfort him. They had to manage together to navigate their way through his darkness. There was no support and nowhere to get the kind of help that really needed outside of psychiatry, shock treatment and medication.
It makes me proud to know that I am playing a small role in advocating for mental health and that my medium is storytelling. I think he would be happy about that. I know he would be happy that I have more at my disposal to help me and that there will be even more for his grandson as he gets older.
Stories are what bring us together. Sharing our stories of mental illness pulls the veil of shame and uncertainty away and lets the light in.
I wasn’t sure that I would ever reach this point, but I have, and it’s pretty amazing.
About Lori Lane Murphy
Lori is passionate about banishing stigma around mental illness not just for our kids, but perhaps, especially for our kids. She believes that if we can take away some of the guilt and shame associated with these issues, conversations will become easier. This is one of the reasons that Lori organizes storytelling shows across the city of Toronto focusing on sharing stories of mental illness. All in Our Heads gives storytellers and audiences alike the opportunity to learn from each other and support the efforts of anti-stigma campaigns. It’s also an opportunity for Lori to share some of her own stories in the hope of helping others. Lori volunteers with Art with Impact by being part of their board and organizing All in Our Heads. She volunteers as a speaker with Partners in Mental Health and is especially excited about her new volunteer role as a Healthy Minds blogger! As a storyteller, comedian, professional speaker and facilitator, Lori wants to use her voice to support those who struggle with the stigma of mental illness and to help remove the shame still too often associated with it.