Healing Through Story: The Power of Accepting Our Full Selves
Each one of us is more than one descriptor. More than woman, man, straight, gay, friend, lover, sister, brother, daughter, son, activist, artist, happy, sad, survivor, teacher, traveler…
We are more than 140 characters. More than our Facebook statuses.
Have you ever felt like you were not living fully true to who you are? That people only knew a certain side of you, perhaps because that is the side shared most, especially today via social media?
Me too. But it’s time to be brave.
Being brave is sometimes difficult. Being brave is being vulnerable. Being brave is being open and no longer hiding.
Being silent no longer feels like an option. Not speaking out feels like a disservice to so many others who may be in the same space and need to be heard and accepted and understood for All they are.
Through journeys with Story I have been blessed that so many have trusted me and shared their truth with me; their challenges and struggles, their resilience and triumphs. If others have trusted me to share their challenges, who I am NOT to share mine?
In the hopes that it may help someone else, here’s another side to my story:
Many of you may know me through sharing joy; whether through Storytelling or Free Hugs around the world or bubbles on subways or small acts of kindness. Some have described me as slightly exuberant, and high energy on the dance floor.
This journey to joy was a very conscious choice, a progression over many years.
I took this journey as a way to cope with a very difficult beginning. I grew up in a house with a father who tried to kill himself 5 times, a mother with an often severe anxiety disorder (I continue to be her Primary Caretaker), and a brother who was alcoholic by the time he was fourteen. He is now 20+ years sober and I have HUGE respect for him.
As everyone has more than one side, I too have another side. A side I offer only an occasional glimpse of to a select few. But it’s time to reveal that side publicly and to embrace it, as difficult as that may be.
So, here’s the truth; along with millions of others on this planet, I have Depression. I won’t say I “suffer” from because in my mind that connotes being a victim and victim feels powerless. And I don’t feel like a victim. And most of the time I don’t feel powerless. I feel like a human being. A multifaceted human being who is grateful much of the time to feel great joy, happiness, and wonder in this world. A human being who also at times feels deep sorrow. Sorrow every bit as big and deep as the joy.
There are times I’ve wished not to have the depth of feelings I have; perhaps you’ve felt like that too. When the sadness and pain come, we wish we could shut it off. But we can’t shut it off, it is just part of who we are.
A friend asked what depression feels like. It’s different for everyone. Here’s how it is for me. I can literally feel it coming as if a power switch has been turned off. My slight exuberance lowers & energy lessens; friends have called me Energizer Bunny, but not at these times. I sleep longer hours. Sometimes situations or challenges that wouldn’t phase me leave me feeling depleted. It’s more difficult to be social, this coming from a social butterfly. And ironically it is when I need my social network the most; please reach out if you notice a friend become more quiet or withdrawn than usual. If you want more suggestions for what you can do for a friend with depression, please let me know.
And I am learning that there is value to the darkness, to the sadness. A great gift has come from it: Compassion.
I am aware that mental health issues still carry a stigma, which is unfortunate.
When someone says they have cancer or MS or heart disease we reach out, telling them to be brave. We remind them of their courage. We run 5Ks to raise money.
But when someone says they have depression, often the reaction continues to be, “It’s all in your head. Just be positive. Snap out of it.” Depression is every bit as real as cancer and MS and heart disease. You would never tell someone with heart disease to “snap out of it.” People who have depression deserve the same outpouring of care, concern and ongoing support.
I am not saying this because I have depression – I am saying it because I have been witness over my entire life to how others have been treated, unheard, disbelieved, and even “unfriended” because of an illness as legitimate and real as cancer.
I am sharing this piece of my story because I want to give others hope. I want others to feel like they can fully embrace who they are.
I also very much want to change the face of depression. The media often portrays mental illness only in the severest of cases. This continues the stigma. It paints a very specific picture of mental illness. Fortunately more people have come forward in the last decade and revealed their mental health status: Jane Pauley, JK Rowling, Catherine Zeta, Jim Carey, Demi Lovato, Owen Wilson, the list goes on. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/31/celebs-with-depression_n_942771.html#s344898title=Angelina_Jolie_
The reason I’ve decided to go public is because people have said to me, “you are the most joyful person I’ve ever met. How are you so joyful all the time?”
The truth is I am not joyful all the time; that would not be human. Though I will admit I do become slightly exuberant about what many consider to be very small things: a sunny day, a dragonfly in a parking lot, pink glitter sneakers. Perhaps this joy I feel so hugely is to balance the deep sadness I also feel.
In my own journey out of darkness, I felt that I could either be consumed by it or I could try to find a way to share joy with others. Joy that is not a mask on my pain, but truly feels – 100% honest and real. It is a way I have been able to connect deeply with others and to allow others a space to be completely themselves. It’s offered healing for myself and others.
The experience of coming out of darkness is different for each of us. Sometimes it is sitting in one’s pajamas eating ice cream straight out of the container. Or it’s putting on a pair of fairy wings and Free Hugging strangers. Or arriving at that moment when you can finally admit the fullness of who you are, like right now.
And yes, I do have pink wings and a tutu and a Free Hugs sign. That Free Hugs sign has saved my life. And it’s opened the door to heartfelt conversations I may have otherwise never had. It’s offered healing to others and to myself.
This is all to say: let us listen and support each other. Let us be 100% who we are with each other and know that our challenges are every bit as real and every bit as brave as anyone else’s. Together we can embrace the darkness and find the light.
Let’s share our journey together. What has helped you accept who you are? What has helped bring you light in the darkness? What would you like to share about Your journey? Would hearing more about mine be helpful to you? Anything you want to know, ask. Anything you’d like to share, please do.
Hugs from my heart to yours,