{Note from WWM: As someone who struggles with my own mental illnesses, which have landed me in the hospital twice, this hit so close to home. Rachel absolutely nails it. I know it may look and seem long, but I promise this is worth the read. Please share this.
So often we think we’re alone, that no one else will or can understand. But there are others who do understand. We know exactly what it feels like. And it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to cry. It doesn’t make you weak.
Rachel’s post is below.}

Rachel’s post has now been taken up by The HuffPost. Congrats, Rachel!!
(Originally posted on Rachel’s blog – reposted with her permission.)

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Dear Person With Mental Illness,

You are not a monster. You are a valuable, unique, wonderful human being who deserves everything grand that this life has to offer. Come out of the shadows and stand proudly in who you are.

You are not damaged. You are WHOLE, regardless of having a mental illness. I like you the way you are. I wouldn’t change you. I see you differently than you see yourself. I am not afraid of you or your illness… I am amazed by you. I am amazed by your courage, willpower, gifts and talents. I accept you, and your worlds of light and darkness.

Some people just have a “neighborhood” in their mind and they never get lost. You have endless terrain to explore, but sometimes you take a wrong turn and can’t find your way home. I love your vast landscape and remember… we can make you maps. You can figure out how to stay safe and still sail on majestic seas of emotion.

You are not “crazy.” You are not violent. You are not the lame stereotypes.

I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with the stigma of mental illness. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with people who are misinformed. I’m so sorry you’ve been made to feel less than. I’m so sorry that after you’ve uttered the words “mental illness” something in the person who’s listening eyes or demeanor has changed. That’s their problem, not yours.

I’m just so sorry. I want to help you shatter the stigma.

Please stop blaming yourself. It’s not your fault. On top the pain and exhaustion your illness causes, you blame, shame and hurt yourself more. Treat yourself as you would a friend with diabetes. Would you tell a dear friend that they are weak for taking insulin? Would you tell a dear friend to just snap out of it? That it’s all their fault? No, you would give them so much compassion and kindness. Please be gentle to your aching heart.

Please don’t listen to misinformed people. Some are open to learning and you can help them understand what mental illness really is. The ones who aren’t open can stay on the shore as you sail away on your recovery ship into a cheesy postcard sunset. It’s okay to wave goodbye and not look back. Destination: Peace.

Focus on the supporters and allies. Hurtful and judgmental words slow your ship down. Let them fly off the back. Only kindness is allowed on board. Cue Taylor Swift, “The haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate- but you’re just gonna shake it off.” They tell you, “You have the blues and just need to get over it!” They were depressed once and cured themselves with yoga and green juices. Their cousin Betty cured her anxiety by eliminating gluten, but she has amazing willpower. They say, “If you just thought more positively…” This makes you feel like crap because no matter what you’ve tried the chaos in your mind is relentless.

Yes, maybe they had situational depression or the blues that was lifted by berry smoothies and reading The Secret, but that is not what you have. You have a chronic illness that needs treatment. Yes, try all the alternative, wonderful resources out there if you want, (and if they work for you, awesome and never mind!) but do NOT feel one ounce of embarrassment or shame for taking medicine. Medications can have side effects but so do mental illnesses.

Getting and staying with treatment is brave. Also, who can afford all that fancy stuff from Whole Foods? “Here’s your one bag of groceries and supplements… that will be $241.95.” *You faint* It would be great if insurance companies covered alternative modalities but most don’t. The ignorant people born with normal brain chemistry may say, “The big pharmaceutical companies are evil and putting everyone on mind numbing drugs!” Well, guess what? They saved your life. You don’t feel numb. You feel like you can get out of bed in the morning and make eggs. Modern medicine is awesome.

Mental illnesses have nothing to do with “not being strong enough.” They have nothing to do with your character. They have everything to do with being illnesses. 

Please do not hide. The world needs you. The world needs your story. You have been to hell and back and you are here to say, “It gets better” for others who are in that hell. When a person is struggling with mental illness, many people look away. Many people change the subject. You reach your hand out into the darkness to find theirs. You share your lantern. You’re not afraid of darkness, because you know it… You had coffee with darkness yesterday. He brought donuts. He doesn’t scare you like before. You know how to work with him.

You are a pillar of strength. You can make a difference. (Warning: I love being cheesy- CHEESE BALL ALERT!) You have grown stronger, more compassionate, and wiser because of your illness. (High-five, illness!) You are creative, artistic, and a dreamer. You can think outside of the box. You easily connect with people. That same imagination that exhausts you with sad images and fearful scenarios can also dream up amazing art, music, stories, new products, business ventures etc.

You are here for a reason.

You’ve held so much pain that is now energy that you can use… What are you going to do with it? Create or destruct? Choose create.

Shout from the rooftops, “Yes, I have a mental illness. I’m also freaking awesome.” ”Yes, I have a fabulous life.. and a mental illness.” Be one of the people working towards ending the stigma!

Please remember your life is YOUR story. Take your pen back and hold it tight. No one else can tell your story for you. Get out your eraser and erase the things you’ve let others write that don’t feel good. Those words are not true for you anymore. Who you allow to contribute to your life’s book is your choice. No one has ever been more qualified to write than you. Redraw the pictures that they tore out. Start on the plans they said weren’t possible. You hold the pen now, and they are possible. Before you touch your pen to the page ask, “Is this nourishing? Is this kind?” If the answer is no, it doesn’t belong in your book.

Don’t be jealous of books with shiny covers. We never know what another’s pages hold.

What will you write in your next chapter? You can always write a new chapter. Stop looking back on the chapters that didn’t go so well. They got you here. They made you a better writer. Everyone has chapters they regret. We all make mistakes, whether we have a mental illness or not. We all act out of pain or confusion and do stupid, hurtful things. We are all human. It’s time to forgive yourself for everything. Guilt and shame slow your ship down too and you are ready to live free from them. You’re gaining more and more speed…

You are ready for life to take you to the most beautiful places. 

Please know that the media has no idea who you are. You are not a monster with a chainsaw. You are not a person in the news in some scary story they are obsessing over. You don’t even like killing bugs. Compassionate and kindness radiate from you. Remember Mozart? Lincoln? Plath? You are in good company. 

You are beautiful. You are brave. You are worthy. You are precious.  

Please remember you have an illness, but you are not your illness. How could a label or diagnosis EVER come close to all that you are? You’re a huge, fabulous spirit with so many gifts, talents, quirks and unique qualities. Your illness is an ant and your spirit is a dinosaur. RAWR!

Please stop picturing bad things happening. This doesn’t protect you or help you, it just takes you away from beautiful moments now. Be kind to yourself in your mind by not playing yourself movies of pain and anguish. When you picture something going wrong, remember it could also go right. You could succeed in school. You could meet a wonderful partner. College could be better than high school. The next medicine could work. You could live a full, happy, wonderful life. See the possibility. Believe the kind thoughts.

You are not going to snap and totally lose your mind. Look at the evidence. Has that ever happened? No, and things have always worked out, even when they were really tough.

Challenges will come and you can face them with all that you are when they are here. No need to face pretend ones in your mind! Also, you are not your thoughts.Thoughts can be scary and you can still be okay. They are just thoughts! You don’t have to take them seriously. Also, know that everyone pictures weird things that they don’t want to picture. We just don’t talk about it. You’re thoughts don’t define you; they just go off like a reflex on their own. Everyone’s thoughts are a hot mess sometimes. No ones thoughts are always unicorns eating rainbow ice cream. (Although I bet you just pictured that and it was pretty awesome)

There is a place inside you that is not affected by thoughts or fears. You are that place. The dinosaur-spirit! RAWR! (Sorry, I just happen to love dinosaurs.)

Show yourself images of you rising up and creating an amazing life. Use your phenomenal imagination to paint something incredible in your mind.

Please know you are worthy of love. Would you tell a friend with an illness that they weren’t worthy of love and a wonderful relationship? Of course not! Would you date someone wonderful, who makes you super happy, but also has an illness? You would and the right person will with you. You can have a mental illness and have a healthy, successful relationship/marriage. The right person will fall *madly* for you. The others can go be shallow and find someone “perfect.” (Oh ya- no one is perfect! We ALL have crap) Someone worthy (yes- they need to be worthy of wonderful you) will be crazy for you-cue “Crazy In Love” by Beyoncé 😉 See, now they are the crazy one. 😉

Please know that you deserve better care and support. The secretaries shouldn’t have told you it’s a three month wait to be seen but you can try the ER. The professionals shouldn’t have spoken to you so condescendingly. The insurance companies shouldn’t have put you on hold for 45 minutes and then denied your claims. The pharmacist shouldn’t have said, “I ran out of that medication this morning, you can try Walmart!” “That will be $155.95. There’s no generic!” You should never have had to cry at the pharmacy. You should have received excellent care and been treated like the smart, capable person you are.

Please remember that your hard work has paid off. You’ve read so many self-help books you’ve basically turned into a walking self help-book. You’re “The Power Of Now” in human form. You can awkwardly recite inspiring quotes if that skill is ever needed somewhere. “Someone quote Oprah RIGHT NOW!”

Sometimes you are even more together than people without mental illnesses!

Friend: My boyfriend hasn’t texted me! OMG! He doesn’t like me anymore. No guy will stay with me.

You: I think you’re catastrophizing and that’s black and white thinking. Try finding reasons why he might have not texted that don’t mean he doesn’t like you. Try and think of reasons a guy will stay with you forever 🙂

Your constant need to find ways to settle your mind has taught you so much about life and what truly matters. Your illness has actually given you gifts.

Please remember to laugh and be ridiculous. Remember what you are grateful for. Remember the small joys and the big joys. Think back on a time when a friend or family member made you laugh till you were teary or peed a little. (You’ve always had a weak bladder so that’s easy) Watch a funny, stupid movie. Take a bubble bath that smells like marshmellows. Take a mental health day and don’t feel once once of guilt.

Please know you are not alone. I have mental illness, too. I am you.

Love, Rachel

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