I use my art to combat stigma against mental illness


There were two major shifts for me in the past year, when I realized that I didn’t have to do this alone.

The first was my concert for Bring Change 2 Mind. I had a cast of about 20 singers, a full band and a director/producer who all believed in ending the stigma, and who all believed in me and my original music. I told my story throughout the show, and afterward, the number of people who came up to me and said, “I have this disease” or “my mother/brother/friend/wife, etc. has this” was overwhelming. It made me think: Wow, this is really all around us. People like me are everywhere and we’re just not talking about it. Everyone knows someone, or has dealt with it themselves, but they never feel like they can talk about it.

I have a gift with writing and words and communicating, and if I use it for good, maybe I can change some of this and more people will speak out.

The experience led me to be a lot more open in my interactions with meeting new people. If it comes up in conversation, I won’t shy away from it. If I’m telling a story and I will be able to explain better if I tell them I am bipolar, then I will do it. If someone calls someone “crazy” in front of me, I go, “Do they have a mental illness? I’m not sure you know what you’re saying.”

I don’t have to be alone in this. I have someone now who wants to be on this ride with me, who loves me for who I am, understanding fully who I am.

Besides my concert, my relationship makes me feel I’m not alone, as cliche as it sounds.

I’ve been with my partner for a year and a half now, and he’s dealt with mental illness before personally, for a short period, and in his immediate family his whole life. He fiercely defends me, and supports me when I get into a dark period.

Sometimes really easy tasks, like waking up in the morning, or going to the post office are really, really hard for me. He doesn’t judge me for that. He helps me through it with kindness, love and understanding.

One day my partner said, “I’ve been thinking of how I would explain to a person why what they said was offensive if it ever came up. If you had another disease, you wouldn’t yell at a person when they’re sick; you wouldn’t tell them to go outside and nature will fix it; you wouldn’t tell them it’s their own fault and they need to fix themselves, that it’s not a real problem; and you wouldn’t treat them like it’s all in their head and everyone deals with that.

“If people actually understood mental illness for what it was, a disease that millions of people live with, they would see that treating someone with mental illness that way is absolutely horrendous and offensive. If they really understood what mental illness was, they would never say something like that.”

I’ve never met anyone who has understood on such a deep level what is in and out of my control, and what I struggle with daily, who is willing to help me get through whatever challenges I face, without judgment or hostility, but with understanding. It really made me think: I have someone who wants to be with me, knowing that they will have to support me on some days, and I don’t have to be alone in this, I have someone now who wants to be on this ride with me, who loves me for who I am, understanding fully who I am. And I don’t have to do this all myself anymore. I have help.

Consider the following resources if you are experiencing mental illness and want to seek help now. If you want to discuss a mental health issue, including symptoms and treatment, call the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). If you are in crisis, text 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For international resources, this list is a good place to start. 

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