Happiness in the Face of Mental Illness by Lindsay S. Wheeler

Summing up a lifelong struggle with major depressive disorder in a few paragraphs is as difficult as it sounds. You see, until I spoke out, insecurity and shame had commanded my life. I was hardly living at all – setting the bar low for myself, measuring my worth by every passing doubt. But I was unstoppable when I finally found my voice – when I first said “I am depressed, everybody.” I called my friends, shared my truth and hoped they’d still love me. Today, they cherish me more for it. We deserve to let even the hardest pieces we carry evolve into something rightfully whole, something meaningful.

I decided to take a radical approach to the problem I viscerally knew, yet had never challenged. Social Media infiltrates us with unrealistic ideals and exacerbates social hierarchies. It makes us feel perpetually inadequate and deepens our already harrowing insecurities. With this in mind, I publicly chronicled my experience with depression, from the everyday triumphs of making it from breakfast to dinner without crying, to living heavily medicated. I shared photos of my weathered face mid-breakdown, blogged about perpetual sadness, and spoke at mental health events. Channeling my energy toward fighting this enormous weight that many face alone, I told the truth.

At one time, I expended great energy crafting the prototype I wished to present the world. But living a false narrative of perfection wasn’t sustainable. I grew up with privilege; nevertheless striving to be anything but what I was. To everyone’s surprise, I have since announced that I have battled major depressive disorder from a young age, and that I have endured a lifelong fight with eating disorders. After I graduated from college I publicly exposed my plight and Facebook was my first medium. The words, the experiences and the pain all poured out of me in a fragmented narrative about myself. I found it empowering to share my own disjointed memoir of the many years mental illness had control over me. Meanwhile, I have learned that many people are living with depression and never realize they are not alone. I am here to bare all: to declare that I will still choose openness despite everything.

I was unstoppable when I finally found my voice.

It is important to go into transparency with a certain fearlessness and lack of naiveté; there will always be that one person who doesn’t come through for you and, sadly, for those of us who have experienced depression, one critical person can have the impact of a crowd. But your mental health is far more important than this person, and the number of others who will be helped by your openness will far outweigh those who allow personal insecurity to be a source of judgment. We must always remember that opposition is just a tiny voice of hate trying to worm its way into a space that is sacred, a space that is ours. In this case, winning is staying above it; and growing is in spite of, as well as because of it.

In Vanity Fair, millions of readers were offered a window into Adele’s struggle with depression. The music icon did not feign impregnability to mental illness. Adele, the ultimate success story, has battled depression, a disease that chooses blindly. Within hours, Adele was “trending,” a principal marker of visibility and respect today. As more of us tell our stories, de-stigmatization and normalization of the mental health experience will happen. I have offered my story as one piece of a larger narrative, fighting to combat stigmas surrounding mental illness; today I am better for it. The proliferation of honest stories will start this movement, but more will be needed.

I am just another 20-something in New York City, living as unapologetically as I should be after years of apology. The mirror is no enemy to me anymore and I’ve come to love my worn eyes. Hunger is no longer the absence that makes me whole. I have stopped hiding behind my old lacrosse jacket and I’m known for being the girl who is real, often featured in my hometown paper simply for finding my voice. I attribute these successes to radical openness. Old friends, acquaintances, and strangers – ranging from 10 to 80 years old – have shared their stories with me. They’ve heard I’m a receptacle for the pieces we all try to hide and, ironically, those that make us human. I am astonished by the bravery of each individual because years ago, I was that brave one, and it was damn hard.

I challenge you to succumb to the discomfort of transparency with full intention; walk right through it in fearless opposition to a society that says living openly is reserved only for the failed and dejected. Driven by the sheer force of the most fiercely protective, selfless people I know, it is instead a prosperous space. Don’t ask for permission; freedom to be proud is a human right. Make a pact today to strive for life and happiness. The world will not remember you for your mental illness or for the moments you believe were your most reprehensible. You will be known as the one who became stronger by virtue of each adversity you embraced.

Lindsay Wheeler is a writer and thought leader on issues of mental illness, challenging readers to consider depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, PTSD, and survival through a new lens. She addresses difficult issues in her writing but also weaves humor and everyday anecdotes throughout. Lindsay is currently in the early stages of writing her first memoir, “Pieces Left Behind.” In it, she reflects on the intimate details of her own experience with mental illness through survival writing. Each word is fueled by a passion to see dialogues around mental illness become more open and accepted. She challenges stigma unapologetically, fighting to be heard through radical transparency and searing honesty. Her story offers valuable insight into what owning her diagnosis publicly has looked like, how accepting herself as a work in progress has translated into survival, and how finding a radical path to recovery may be the only way to change the world. It is Lindsay’s ultimate passion to be a resource for those who live in fear and silence. Her writing can be found at lswheeler.com or on Facebook under ‘The Writing of Lindsay Wheeler.’

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