Two published writers, a runner, Miss Baltimore, and me. What do we have in common?
We’re all mental health advocates, and on December 5th, we were panelists at The Mental Health Discussion hosted by Towson’s NAMI. All of us deal with mental illness in our daily lives, and we were selected to share our stories with a room full of curious strangers.
I was the only non-trained speaker. I was also the only student. I didn’t prepare any notes; every time I tried, I ended up only wrestling with my pen in frustration. As I sat in front of the packed room, I listened to my fellow panelists tell stories that were familiar to me. Stories of confusion, stories searching for a diagnosis, stories of both love and rejection, stories of wrestling with a new identity. Four of the five of us have bipolar disorder, but that was not the root of the similarities. All mental illnesses share a common core: a fight to survive, a fight to thrive despite unfortunate brain chemistry.
It became obvious to me that my story was not the most severe. My parents still love and support me, my episodes of psychosis were of no serious consequence, my hospitalizations were short. But that did not make my story any less important. My struggles are valid. We are all beautiful warriors, even though the stones that make up our necklaces come from different lands and create different patterns against our skin.
When it was my turn to speak, I was ready. I gained comfort and strength from seeing the audience’s reaction. Their nods of understanding and their warm smiles prodded me onwards. The universal elements of my story resonated with the group, just as those of theirs resonated with me. We are our own tribe.
The members of my tribe may have ugly scars, but we decorate each other in vibrant paint. We paint the colors of love and acceptance across our bodies. We ruffle each others’ hair in adoration as we tell our stories around a campfire. The light catches the decorative stones of necklaces and sprinkles us with light like stardust.
What I took away from the panel experience is how passionate and creative these individuals are, not just in spite of, but because of the adversity they have faced. I know that despite the trials I have had to overcome, I am in good company. I am proud of my tribe.