It’s awkward. You know the feeling – sitting across from someone who you know does not speak the same language you do. Maybe it’s someone who stares straight through your eyes, or maybe they glance past you not taking notice. It feels cold, annoying, uncomfortable even.
You start to question…
Stop. Really just stop.
Take it from the girl who talks more comfortably about mental illness and trauma than most “normal” topics; the minute you trade in who you are for who you think you should be you sacrifice the gift that you are to this world. I’d rather meet you any day than some version of you, that this world has somehow told you is socially acceptable. I used to know this guy who could make me feel incredibly comfortable just being me. We would talk for hours sometimes about something and other times about nothing. He was special not because of what he said or did, but that he made me feel okay to be me; and he did this by simply being him.
We can spend our entire lives asking that question: “Who would you like me to be?” and never figure out who in fact we really are. Be authentic to yourself so that others can be true to themselves. What a beautiful gift.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
When I fist met Melissa I didn’t know what to think; from her northern accent to her bright red hair and her wide open personality. We were having dinner at Panera Bread before the first time Where I Stand ever came alive on stage. She was the keynote speaker we brought in and to be honest at first I was skeptical. Immediately she began asking questions about the event and all of them were deferred to me. Before long my life story was on the table and her exact words to me were: “Dude I’m so pumped for this. This is amazing.” At this point I really had no clue how big Where I Stand was going to become, but her encouragement meant a lot.
You see, Melissa, like myself has a history of mental illness. However Melissa was the first person I ever met who modeled to me what I knew I was called to do. Her passion for people, for spreading hope, for dispelling the myths and relaying the truth that mental illness is not a death sentence is nothing short of beautiful.
After hearing Melissa speak at the first ever Where I Stand I coordinated (which was far from a success) on at James Madison University in 2011. I felt inspired. But what completely shocked me was that at the end of the event she looked at me and said: “You inspire me.” In that moment that’s when I knew Melissa didn’t care about how many people thought she was awesome, or cool, all she truly cared about was spreading the hope and the light that made changes in this world for the good.
After that event, Melissa and I stayed connected, though geographically in different locations – fueled by the same desire to change the world, we became natural friends. Here in Virginia I made various strides on our campus in mental health advocacy, and eventually brought Melissa back to speak at an incredibly successful event Dancing with the Stars of JMU for Suicide Prevention. Melissa hosted the event, shared bits and pieces of her experience in between the dancing couples for a cause.
During this time too Melissa was hard at work writing her first book “The People You Meet in Real Life” a compliation of stories and inspiration of people struggling through things and displaying great strength and character and hope. Melissa’s story is told throughout the book as she encounters and is inspired and encouraged by each of the people she meets. When Melissa asked me to be apart of this amazing book; I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I felt. After all, Melissa, who has inspired me (and so many others) so much, now wanted my story to inspire others.
The book was released as an e-book earlier this month and it is truly inspirational and encouraging from start to finish. There are a lot of people who have helped shape my life. I am a firm believer that the people in our lives help us to navigate and grow into who we become – but I will tell you that Melissa and her intense hope, love, drive and determination continues to remind me to follow my dreams.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
Get your copy of The People You Meet in Real Life Below:
Learn more about Melissa Ann Hopely Below:
I was talking with one of the lovely ladies that I mentor last night and she told me how she works so hard to display to the world a strong and confident persona. As we were talking, I thought to myself: “Wow, I do the exact same thing.” There may be differences in the way and the why we do this between me and this beautiful lady who is currently working to determine what recovery from her eating disorder would mean for her. But she got me thinking….
Why do I still run for the hills in the face of vulnerability?
Why do I feel so comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd yet sometimes withdraw from intimate settings?
Honestly, it’s because I’m insecure.
Some people will read this and be surprised because of how much information about my personal life there is “out there”, and how willing and open I am to talk about depression, mood, struggle, eating disorders, trauma ect. That’s my comfort zone. That world makes sense to me. It was a fight to get a understanding of it; It’s been a method of survival. Now as I am an advocate and realizing that my life outside of that world is ready for me to jump into. It makes me feel afraid. I’ve been a patient for so long – will anyone ever like me as a friend; forget friend what about girlfriend? I think about what I’ve missed – seemingly large chunks of what was supposed to be “normal life” buried in periods of illness and deep struggle and then I realize what I’ve gained: a sense of self.
We’re all insecure.
We can pretend we’re not all we want. But it’s fake. We’re all human looking for our place in a world that is always changing and shifting and difficult. The best I’ve realized I can do is know where I’ve come from and not only be okay with but be proud of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel awkward talking to guys or in large social situations (even if you can’t tell). But I think half the battle of intimacy is knowing that even if our instinct is to puff up and exert ultra confidence – to be aware of that and remember that it’s okay to be insecure… after all we all are.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
“You are so inspiring.”
This phrase has been said to me more than a few times. Each time I blush, look down, say thank you and make a comment about how my life isn’t my own and my accomplishments have come not from only hard work but the love and support of people that God has put in my life.
The truth is… I don’t feel inspiring.
I don’t say this to you to put myself down or to dig around for more compliments. I say this to you because I’m guessing you feel the same way. When I look at my life personally it’s so apparent what I could have or should have done. I see things that I could have done better. It’s like standing in the mirror with a spotlight on ally my flaws and mistakes. Why? Because it’s me. I see my life on a micro, minute-to-minute scale where waking up, putting my shoes on and taking out the trash are simple annoyances.
Then I look at say someone like you. I see your story. I see how you love your children and your friends. I see your passions and you convictions. Some of you that write to me, I read about your struggles and your triumphs. I see your hard work and your creativity. I see your loving soul and your ability to put people at ease. I see your differences. I hear you laugh and see the twinkle in your eye and I think:
“Wow – They truly are inspiring.”
We are always going to look inward with critical eyes. We are going to be tempted to compare our outsides with other’s insides and we will probably always find someone who we believe is more inspiring, talented, beautiful, strong, smart, faithful, competent, eloquent, popular, successful etc. Just remember there is always someone thinking the same thing about you.
My name is Erin and This is Where I Stand.
I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who genuinely likes change. As humans, we are creatures of habit, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Change, however, is an inevitable part of life – we will go away to school, get new jobs, make new friends, etc. It might be hard at first, but most people adapt. My mom has this “21 day theory” – she says give anything 21 days and you will get used to it. In my experience, I have found this theory to be true in most cases. My one exception, however, is recovering from a mental illness.
Recovering from a mental illness requires one to change the very essence of who they are, or rather, who they BELIEVE they are. On the surface, it sounds so simple. A depressed person needs to be happy. An anxious person needs to calm down. An eating disordered person needs to eat. I could go on and on. The problem is that these conditions – depression, anxiety, eating disorders – are diseases. Would you ever tell a person with diabetes to merely produce more insulin? Probably not. It’s the same thing with mental illness. The changes required to get well are not as simple as “be happy” or “just eat”.
Recovery is a process that, yes, involves change. But it’s not the kind of thing where you flip a switch and everything is better. It requires a series of small, deliberate changes. I will use my personal recovery from my eating disorder to illustrate the kinds of changes necessary to heal. Please remember, that this is the path of MY recovery. Your journey may look different than mine, but they will have one thing in common: change.
When people ask me how I recovered, my honest answer is normally, “I have no idea”. That’s because recovery of mental illness is so gradual that sometimes it’s hard to see. But if I break it down, this is how I did it. I told someone. I asked for help (this is definitely not to say I always accepted the help, but the sooner you welcome the help the sooner you will experience change). I withdrew from school to focus solely on myself. I submitted to a higher level of care (multiple times – sometimes it takes more than once, and that’s okay). I established a solid outpatient team. I was honest. I kept appointments. I listened to the professionals’ recommendations. I found coping skills that work for me (this one was hard – it’s a very individualized thing). I never gave up. I accepted that this is a life-long battle, but it will get easier. I allowed myself to show emotion (and even cry in therapy!!). I went to brunch and ate French Toast. I went back to work. I got a puppy. I’m going to graduate school next year.
So, yes, recovery did involve change. But, you see, this change occurred over many, many years – definitely not 21 days. And it’s still happening. It was painful; probably the most difficult change I have ever had to make. Healing from a mental illness is complex because it doesn’t just require one change. It requires you to wake up every single day and choose to make a series of changes that every fiber of your being does not want to make. But once you start to repeatedly make those choices, the changes will seem more natural. Eventually you won’t have to make the choice to change anymore. One day, you will realize that you are no longer the person you once thought you were. You will be changed.
My name is Lizzie and this is Where I Stand.
By: Guest Blogger Audra Anderson
People with serious mental illnesses may have difficulty retaining viable and sustainable employment. Some are so affected; they are on disability, because the illness affects their ability to work.
Many do not make enough money to buy healthy foods, or to live on their own. Many cannot afford the medications they may need, or even basic dental care.
There are those who are homeless, in shelters, or even in jail. Many remain untreated, some by choice, others because there is no one to look out for them anymore.
When a child starts showing “behavioral issues” in an educational environment, how many times does the child get suspended, or labeled, but not given the additional services they really need?
How many teenagers with mental illness drop out of school rather than face another day of seemingly failure and finger pointing? How many cut, begin to self-medicate, become sexually promiscuous?
How many die by suicide?
People with mental illness are people too. They laugh, they cry, they feel everything anyone else does. They need food, clothes, and shelter just like everyone else.
They want and need to be loved just like everyone else, sometimes maybe even a little more.
Why is it socially acceptable that people with mental illnesses are stigmatized, segregated and ignored?
What message do we as a society send when we allow these conditions to continue?
Every time we look the other way, or fail to advocate for someone in need, we perpetuate the system that tells those with mental illness that we do not value them enough for them to live a life in pursuit of freedom, security and love.
Each time a person with mental illness in need of food, health care, shelter, or education is denied these basic needs, we tell them they are not loved and they are of no value to society.
There is no expectation that they will recover, or contribute to society in a meaningful way.
These messages are false and need to be rejected.
Every person that walks this earth has a greater meaning, are part of a larger purpose.
“The loneliest people are the kindest. The saddest people smile the brightest. The most damaged people are the wisest. All because they do not wish to see anyone else suffer the way they do.”
We all should be loved. We all have value.