“I want to see you be brave.”

“You can be amazing; you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug. You can be the outcast, or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love. Or you can start speaking up.”

I am writing for this blog because words can save lives.

I am writing this for you: peers, educators, families, friends of somebody who may be battling with a mental health condition, or of somebody who isn’t. I am writing this for those of you who know nothing at all about what it means to have a mental illness. I am writing this in hopes that you might learn something, that you might take away a piece of knowledge that you can use to help someone in need. I’m writing this so that the next time you hear a phrase like “ugh, that class makes me want to shoot myself”, you won’t chuckle and shrug it off; so that when you notice a friend has been sleeping more than usual and stopped caring about their schoolwork, you don’t feel nervous to be the person to ask them how they’ve been doing. I want you to feel prepared to have those honest conversations. I want you to feel confident enough to stand up to those who make stigmatizing jokes about mental illnesses. Truthfully, as foreign as those struggles may seem, the person in need of help and advocacy could someday be you.

I am writing this for you: who is certain that you’re entirely alone, that you never belonged here, that you’re going to feel this way forever; you, whose eyes can’t see through the fog, whose skin suffers at the hands of your mind, who feels like you’re suffocating from the weight; you, who punctuates every tiny thought of hope with “yeah, but…not me”, who doesn’t feel like your voice is worthy of sound, who can’t bear to face the outside world; you, whose mind races, whose heart races, whose limbs can’t stop moving. This is for you: who feels wrong, who feels lost, who feels stuck. You, who has forgotten that you deserve the world simply because you’re you.

I am writing this for you most of all. I’m writing this for you because I have been there, and sometimes when it’s hard to find words,  finding shelter in someone else’s can give you hope.

“Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way the words do when they settle ‘neath your skin. Kept on the inside, no sunlight, sometimes a shadow wins.”

For way too long, I hid my pain beneath laughter, beneath layers of clothes, beneath excuses. I didn’t want anybody to be pulled down by my weight. I wanted to protect my family and friends. I was convinced that nobody would be able to help me anyway or that I would just be cast away as being overdramatic or stupid. I had always been the good girl, the perfect daughter, the A+ student, and everything was spiraling out of control. I was afraid of who I was becoming, but I was so ashamed that I didn’t want anybody to know. I didn’t want to show how vulnerable I was; and after all, how do you bring up a conversation like that? How do you push those words out?

“But I wonder what would happen if you say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out.”

I wish I could pinpoint a specific moment during my journey when I found my voice, but like any solid structure, it had to be built brick by brick. It’s true that once you let the words out, it becomes easier to add those bricks. When you use your voice, when you speak up to friends, counselors, teachers, family members, they can help lift you up and give you the boost you need to keep building, to reach higher than you ever thought you could. They might even offer to carry some of the weight.

“Honestly, I want to see you be brave.”

Some days it’s harder to talk about the pain you feel. Some days there will be a lump in your throat and a heaviness in your chest that suffocates the words inside you. And some days others’ ignorance will make you choke on your words. Know that you don’t have to feel completely confident or have the right words; just let them fall out. The first call I made to the counseling center on my college campus was one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but throughout my journey, it really did get easier to talk about my mental illness. And years later, after talking through my pain, after reaching out to those who care about me, after learning to fight for myself, I look back and realize that I have this amazing structure with which I have learned to protect my mental health and to work through the obstacles I face. I have support and it makes me feel safe; it makes me feel lighter. If it weren’t for my friends, family, mentors, therapists, doctors, and all those who were willing to help in between, I wouldn’t be here.

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live; maybe one of these days you can let the light in.”

You do not have to battle this alone. You are capable of feeling better, and you are worthy of feeling better. If you are hurting and unsure of what to do, please speak up, reach out, ask for help. Let the words fall out. It could save your life, and we need you here. Be brave.

-Leah B.