Last year when I traveled to Texas for the Overnight Walk for Suicide Prevention, I was taking a huge step in my own personal recovery. I was chosen as one of the representatives of the honor bead ceremony. My last post: Green Honor Beads I shared what the Green beads represent for me.
This was the first time I have ever been so public with my story. It is easy to share your heart and your words from behind a computer screen. It is a completely different experience to hear your story flood the speakers into a crowd of over a thousand people.
There on that stage, I was most vulnerable. I had a choice to make, to draw back and not participate or fully allow myself to engage with that moment and all the emotions that came along with it.
As I stood on that stage, I started shaking and the tears started flowing. As I looked out on the crowd, thousands of eyes looked back at me. And in them I saw empathy, and care, and pride and hope. The participants of the Overnight flooded me with such messages and support, that I felt the shame of my story fall away.
As I walked through the night, I had many people stop me and thank me for being brave enough to share my story. Because they had been there, or someone they loved had been there. Or because they had wished the loved one they lost had been able to talk about their struggles.
When I came back to New York, I was filled with the truth that telling our stories has the power to destroy shame and stigma. I have been sharing my story on this blog for quite some time. But, in my real life, I was very guarded with who I shared the whole story with. I was afraid of the repercussions. I have been told many times, even by my own family members, that I should keep my story quiet?
But why? It is in the silence that the shame grows within a person. In the silence is where stigma gains its power. Silence keeps our stories from reaching the people who need to hear it most. Silence builds up a wall that prevents those who should be seeking help, from doing so. Silence hurts more people.
I know that being honest will push people away, as there are so many people who are clouded by negativity surrounding mental illness and suicide. But I know that the ones who stay in my life, are the ones I want there. The ones who will join in my fight to break down stigma. The ones who will know all of me and will not ask me to change so that they can feel better. The ones who will be better friends and supporters to those in crisis.
I want to create a life where every day feels like looking out on to those thousands of faces and seeing love and acceptance. I want that for myself, and I want that for everyone else out there who struggles.
And because of that I will no longer be silent.