Last week I was given a Humanitarian Award from my local Jewish Family Services for my fight against the stigma of mental illness. To say that I was honored, humbled and overwhelmed would be a complete understatement. It’s been 4 days and I have been experiencing a range of emotions. I knew I was receiving the award but I had no idea what I would feel after receiving it. I was extremely emotional the first couple of days, crying a lot, feeling so loved by supportive comments on social media that, again, felt quite overwhelming. I would walk by the award sitting on my kitchen table (we had not yet found a permanent home for it) and take a second, third and fourth look, always surprised to see my name on this gorgeous award. My anxiety would rise each time I walked by.
I began to question why I was given this honor. I asked myself, what have I really done to deserve this? I certainly am invested in my local Jewish Family Services and feel so grateful to be a part of their family. I write, I speak, I constantly post on social media. I share my experience of mental illness, of having a treatment resistant illness that has required invasive treatments. I am open, honest and do not shy away from any aspect of the topic of mental illness.
I then began to feel sad. I wondered, I have to do more, there is still so much more to do. How and what can I do to ensure that people hear me? It’s not working! I need to not only convey my experience but have people hear me, react, do something to demonstrate that they hear me. I need people to see the stigma and do their part to fight it. I felt angry and defeated and even retreated a bit over the weekend due to feeling disheartened.
While that strong feeling has dissipated, I am still feeling a bit defeated. I am so desperate for people to understand and not be afraid of mental illness that I feel lost as to what to do next. I am out there, there is no question about that. I will keep writing and share that writing hoping to connect with people. I will keep speaking about my experience as it is so vast but giving one speech does not come close to covering all that experience entails, not even close.
Patrick Kennedy was the guest speaker at the event and I am trying to use his words and follow his lead in terms of his never-ending fight against stigma and prejudice. His energy does match mine, I just need to look inside myself and recognize that familiarity. This is not an easy fight. Sharing myself so openly and without inhibition is almost natural and I plan to use that ease to continue my fight by sharing my experience. It’s there…in my heart. I do feel it.
As Jewish Family Services would say, I am going to Embrace Possibility.