How you view yourself affects everything about your life.
I saw this graphic (above) on Facebook, and really liked it. It's not my creation, just posting it here because it makes a good point.
I'm not sure I would say that my friends and family view me as a lonely soul crumpled up on a floor. More likely they view me as far more functional than that. But, I could be wrong.
I live near Clearwater Beach, and there is free entertainment there every night. One of the magic acts involves a teenager putting a straightjacket on himself and then trying to free himself from it. Every time I've been there and seen that, I have walked away, offended and annoyed at the stigma that continues to plague us everywhere we go.
Society doesn't view people with mental illness as plain, old, regular, non-threatening people. They expect us to be visibly ill, to be strapped to a straightjacket, tied to a hospital bed, or sitting on the street corner talking out loud to the voices we hear. I don't know any mentally ill people who fit that stereotype.
But there is also the stereotype we have about ourselves, which matters. There are people who forget that a mental illness does not define who you are. Sometimes, even in therapeutic environments, we are encouraged to think of ourselves firstly as sick. This can be counterproductive to thinking of ourselves, firstly, as human. We might think, also, that others can tell we're mentally ill by looking at us, which is usually not the case.
I think what's missing from the graphic is how we should view ourselves - as heroes of our own stories. We are each our own hero in our own war that never got televised. We are survivors who thrive and who educate and advocate and support our fellow humans, whether it be by commenting on a blog or attending a support group or running a NAMI Peer to Peer class like the one I'm involved with right now. We are heroes because we overcome the obstacles. We are heroes because we do not give up. We are heroes because we do not just kill ourselves and end it all. We fight. And there are a lot of us, a whole hell of a lot of us out there fighting their heroic battles. We're not alone. We fight together. We fight in unison. We need each other to win this war.
This week, I'll be headed to San Antonio for the national NAMI Convention and I hope to meet lots of other heroes there.