Red lines drawn onto skin, red lines etched into skin, red lines painting more red lines. And then scars. Scars up and down legs, scars on the insides of wrists, scars hidden by long sleeves and long pants, scars on skin and scars within. On mind and heart and soul. But all this hidden behind a mask, behind a brick wall of fear, within a steel cage of silence. All this hurt and pain, silenced.
But break the silence, you think to yourself. Break it, seek out friends and family, get support from those who love you. And you do.
“Cheer up. Put on a smile. Just watch a funny movie. See? There you go. All better.” No, not all better. It’s not that easy, that’s not it how works. Red lines aren’t erased by comedy. Scars aren’t erased by smiles. It’s not that easy. It’s not that easy. So silence. Silence again. Build the wall higher, build the cage thicker. Hide. Put the mask on. Keep the hurt quiet, keep the pain silent.
No, don’t do this to yourself. Don’t hide away again. But once burned, twice shy, but no. Put yourself out there, you can do it.
“What’s wrong with you? Just get over it. Your life isn’t that bad. There are people starving and dying all over the planet, and you’re just crying for no reason. Don’t be so weak.”
What? You tore down your barriers and broke you silence for that? Hide away, go away, no. Not again. Not this time. You will not suffer alone. You will not suffer in silence. Break the silence. You will find support, and you do.
And before you know it, you have a community around you who understand and support you and love you, and there is no silence within this community. But it is one group of speaking, one fraction of openness within a much larger community that won’t even touch the subject of mental illness. No, we will not be in silence.
We will not be told that we are crazy and insane. We will not be told that we just need to get over it. We will not be told that we are sinners and need to learn the error of our ways. We will not be told to get out of the way and not bother advancing in life because we can’t handle it, because we aren’t worth faith and investment. No. We will not be silent any more.
Because we are 1 in 4. Because we are friends and family and loved ones. Because we struggle with an illness just like any other. Even if you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Because we are human and we deserve to be treated as people, regardless of any illness. So we will stand tall, and we will push ourselves into the wider community any way we know how.
Any way I know how. I start small. I don’t let comments like, “She’s crazy. He needs to be in a mental institution. What a psycho” slide. No, I will not stand by and remain silent. Because every moment of silent means a missed opportunity for progress. And I will work to change the vocabulary of everyone around me.
And then bigger. Educational workshops on my university campus. Awareness events and campaigns on my university campus and at the local high schools. Statewide conferences to better the spread of education and awareness. National organizations and education and awareness campaign tours. Education. Awareness. But more than that. Also support. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy. Love.
Because everyone who has struggled with mental illness or has been affected by it is part of this community. Because everyone has mental health. Because we are all people. And we should not let distinctions come in between us. Barriers of illness, language, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality…No more, no longer.
And it’s a lot and it’s overwhelming and what if I send the wrong message and what if I don’t reach enough people and what if I can’t change the minds of everyone and how long will it take and how much will it take and how many more people with mental illness will be hurt or injured or abused or killed. How much will we have to sacrifice to break this silence, how much will we have to sacrifice until people with mental illness and people without will all be seen as people within the same community, and what else can I do, what else can I do….and stop.
Breathe. No more red lines. No more red lines. Scars, yes, but not hidden. Open. Open for the world to see. Because no shame. Only education. Awareness. Support. Understanding. Compassion. Empathy Love. No more masks. No more brick walls of fear. No more steel cages of silence. No more hurt and pain, silenced.
We will break the silence that is the stigma against mental illness.
By healing one red line at a time.