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It's Okay to Not Be Okay: Breaking the Silence to Celebrate National Mental Health Month

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I didn't know this was true: it's okay to not be okay.

The feeling that something was wrong with me held on tight, constricting things like a sense of self-worth, confidence, and joy. Some days, it was all I could do to take a deep breath. Some days, I was so weak in the knees I could barely stand. All days, I couldn’t look you in the eye because of my shame. My struggling mental health was somehow a reflection of who I was and who I was never going to be. I was broken beyond repair. Different than you. Crazy.

I didn't know that it was normal, it was all a part of the human experience, to not be okay.

I grew up before the age of social media erupted and before there were many of the mental health advocacy organizations there are today. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), Faces and Voices of Recovery, Recovery Advocacy Project—the list goes on and on. Today, there are advocates all over the country who lift up their voices and their stories of addiction and mental health recovery in order to shine a light in the dark places.

It wasn’t until decades after my struggles with mental health began that I heard a new message of hope and was changed by growing openness and advocacy.

How Advocacy Moved Mental Health from Silence to Celebration

When I had a couple years in addiction and mental health recovery, I saw a documentary called The Anonymous People. It highlighted an entire culture of silence around addiction and other mental health challenges that changed when several impassioned people, including women, started talking openly about their struggles. I also learned about the neuroscience of addiction and other mental health challenges and how our understanding of the science can change the perceptions that mental health and addiction is somehow a moral failing. Mental health, more accurately, is a holistic issue, having physical, emotional and even spiritual components. And importantly, is a medical condition that not only can be treated and heal, but is also shared by countless people around the globe.

The First Time I Knew I Wasn’t Alone

I walked into my first recovery meeting and met eyes with the woman who would become my first recovery mentor. Kim had long sandy blonde hair, sharp eyes, and a self-confidence that was infectious. I knew right away that whatever this woman had—I wanted it.

At the meeting, each person took their turn speaking about getting sober and unmanageability and making amends. They talked about going to treatment and taking medications like anti-depressants or Suboxone that helped them. They talked about growing up in dysfunctional or alcoholic or abusive homes. They talked about sexual assault and shame and how trauma can change how you experience the world. In recovery, so many of the things I had struggled with alone, instantly became a we thing.

Talking about Mental Health Leads to Healing

After my first recovery meeting, I realized that I was not the only one—and that healing was possible.

Healing is possible.

If my neighbor down the street talks about how they see a therapist for their mental health challenges or I see a billboard sharing a suicide prevention hotline or on Facebook there are advertisements for Recovery Community Organizations that provide recovery support services or if my church opens its doors to a recovery community center—if these examples and more start to point out to me that I’m not the only one, then something miraculous can happen.

The more we open up, the more we send the message that its okay to reach out for help.

Celebrating National Mental Health Month

May is National Mental Health month, a time to celebrate mental health recovery. There are so many ways to help support mental health awareness—a very important one being by sharing our personal stories. In fact, research shows that the number one way to reduce mental health stigma is to share stories to increase the public’s understanding of the issues. To show that recovery is possible.

Kim started walking a journey with me that changed the course of my life. It would allow me, against all odds, to develop resilience, form healthy relationships, construct and maintain boundaries, and reach out for mental health support when I need it. National Mental Health Month is important to me because it reminds me of the power of our stories and the importance of vulnerability.

Today I am a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and neighbor. I’m also a woman in recovery from addiction and other mental health challenges. I say this boldly because I’d like you to be inspired to share your own struggles. You never know who might need to hear your bright story.

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