Back in April, I had the privilege of being asked to join the cast of This Is My Brave. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, then this isn’t news to you. However, I’ve held off on publishing the essay that I delivered until today. One year ago today, I tried to end my story. The thing about stories, though, is sometimes they write themselves… and mine wasn’t ready to be finished.
To be honest, being at the one year mark doesn’t feel much like an accomplishment. I am constantly beleaguered by thoughts of “I should be much more grateful to be alive” or “I should be in a better place by now”. It’s hard to not feel like a failure when you set the bar so high for yourself. But then, it doesn’t seem to me that being glad to be alive should be considered a high standard.
The creators of This Is My Brave are passionate about their belief that storytelling saves lives. We connect with each other and realize that we’re not alone. Someone out there gets it. And someday, there will be a time when talking about mental illness won’t be seen as an act of bravery; it’ll just be seen as a conversation.
But until then, you can call me brave.
You know how every once in a while, something happens and you say to yourself, “If someone had told me five, ten, twenty years ago that I would be here, doing this thing or that thing, I’d have never believed it”? If you had told me when I graduated high school that I would be not only a regular church-goer, but someone who sang on a church worship team, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I’d move to Amish country and still be there twelve years later, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would be placed in a psychiatric hospital four times in three years, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you had told me that I would someday be standing in front of strangers talking about the inner workings of my mind, I definitely wouldn’t have believed you. Sometimes, the thoughts inside my head really shouldn’t meet the outside world. And yet… here I am.
Last year, when This Is My Brave debuted, I briefly toyed with the idea of auditioning for the show, and then immediately convinced myself that – ironically – I wasn’t brave enough to get up in front of people and tell my story. It’s one thing for me to blog about my struggles with being bipolar and rant online about the unfairness of mental health stigma, because writing it is the easy part when nobody knows who you are.
I have lived with anxiety and mood disorders for essentially my entire life, but it wasn’t until about eight years ago that a big, cataclysmic trigger set me on a path of therapists and medications and hospitals. I kept a lot of what was going on with me to myself for the most part, largely because my family had just gone through a traumatic couple of years. I heard over and over again how amazing it was that I had the strength to get through it, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to tell people that in the end, I lost that strength.
After my second hospitalization, I started becoming more open and direct on my blog. It was therapeutic for me, and helpful for friends of mine to understand what I was trying to say when I couldn’t find the words to say it in spoken conversation. But still, it was only a handful of people who knew that I was the one authoring these words.
And then came the day that I was asked by my worship pastor to give a very brief testimony during our worship set about an experience I had when I wanted to commit suicide, and received a very personal display of grace from God. Now, I have to explain something here: I’m one of those people who has a very difficult time saying no, so when he asked me to do this less than a week before the Sunday I was to tell the story, I immediately said, “Sure! No problem!” Anxiety? Big problem. I remember one of my first thoughts being, “YES! We’re finally going to have somebody say SOMETHING about mental illness in church!” The thought immediately behind that was “Oh, crud. That someone is ME.”
That Sunday morning, I was terrified as I stood up there singing, knowing what was coming. Honestly, the only thing going through my mind was, “Really? I still have to sing after this?” I had no notes, but somehow managed to tell a story that made sense and seemed to make an emotional connection with the congregation.
A few weeks after that Sunday, a woman came up to me to thank me for telling my story and said how powerful and moving it was. I was in the middle of trying to figure out how to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” at the same time without sounding completely awkward when she finished with “especially because I always thought you were so perfect and put together”.
I’m so not perfect, nor am I even remotely close to being put together.
If I was a perfect, put together, normal human being, I would not have found myself in critical condition in the Medical ICU of the University of Maryland Medical Center last summer, waiting to see if my liver and kidneys were going to completely fail after I had attempted to kill myself for the second time in two months. The human body is an amazingly resilient being, and I can stand here today and say that I am a suicide attempt survivor.
I know how incredibly lucky I am to have people in my life who truly do understand what it’s like, and to also have people who know how to simply listen when they don’t understand. I have an amazing mental health professional team who work with me in my treatment and recovery process. I have people who have seen me at my very worst and have never left my side. I have people who tell me that their office door is always open, and if I need to just sit and be in the presence of someone who cares, I can. These are the people who let me know that even when I’m not okay, I am still a person of value, and that I can get through to the other side.
I’ve been complimented with words like “strong”, “courageous”, and yes, even “brave”, because I have been bold enough to step out of the darkness and say, “HEY! This is what it’s like for me to have bipolar disorder and be suicidal.” And maybe, just maybe, those people are right. So this year, when This Is My Brave put out the call, I became determined to claim my brave.
This is my story.
This is my brave.