For a lot of my life, I would have considered myself “the quiet one.” Happier to remain silent, take the back seat, and only chime in on a conversation when necessary. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve started slowly creeping out of my shell. And I’ve grown to love conversations. I love learning about other people, making connections and sharing about myself.
Before I go any further, I need to acknowledge something. I am really lucky. Because of a number of factors, including the country I live in and connections I have, I have access to a pretty great therapist. Someone I can see weekly for the most part, who is able to prescribe medication if that’s the best route, and here’s the kicker – is completely covered by my province’s health insurance program, meaning it doesn’t cost me a cent.
I say this not to brag, more to check my privilege. I sincerely wish this level of care was freely available to everyone everywhere, whether you struggle with mental illness or not. The disparity in mental health care access and availability is a great injustice, if you ask me.
Ok, I’ll get down off my soapbox now, because ranting on healthcare inequity isn’t the main goal of this post. Obviously, I am a huge advocate of therapy, whether you think you need it or not. I am also a huge advocate of normalizing therapy as well as conversations about mental health and mental illness. I am a big fan of getting the conversation started, which is the main reason I write on here.
But if therapy isn’t an option for you because of cost or availability, there’s still hope. Each one of us has a voice. And by speaking up and speaking out, any one of us can take steps toward healing. We can all start the conversation and take small steps towards ending stigma and also in keeping ourselves more mentally healthy.
Speaking out and starting the conversation doesn’t have to be in a public forum. You don’t have to write a blog, post on social media, or give talks to an audience (although if you want to do that, cool – we need all the advocates we can get). For me, writing is another form of therapy, and I find writing words down (both here and in my journal) to be incredibly helpful and clarifying.
And I share how and what I do because I am trying to start that conversation, to help others. And I am continually surprised and delighted at how many meaningful connections and conversations have come out of it.
But there are other, less public ways to speak out that might seem less daunting. And although writing on here is really important to me, I also have conversations in my day to day life that give my brain and soul a boost, and are slowly ending stigma (both others’ and my own).
How do you do that? It starts with a little bit of courage and vulnerability, I’m afraid (as I’m learning most hard but good, worthwhile things do). Because to start a conversation, you have to actually, well, startsomething.
A good starting point is to find your audience. You don’t have to be posting on your socials if you don’t want to. But to have a conversation, you have to have someone to talk to. This is where you need to find your people, your tribe. What friends do you have that are safe people? That you know 100% you can talk to about anything without freaking them out?
This can take time, and although it’s super worthwhile, I encourage you not to rush this. Because once you say something, you can’t take it back. What this audience, this friend (or friends) looks like is completely up to you. They don’t have to have the same struggles as you (although that can be helpful too). They just have to be a judgement-free zone. They might have help or advice to offer, but they don’t rush in with it right away. They listen first before chiming in with their own perspective.
Okay, so you’ve got your person or people – now what? Well that depends. How much have you told them or opened up before? Like would they know at all that you’re struggling? Do they know what you need or what you are doing to work on your mental health on an ongoing basis?
This is where honesty, realness, openness, little by little and day to day helps. If your friends know your struggles, and what you’re dealing with and going through; you don’t have to have this big moment of “here’s what’s going on/I’m really struggling/things are really bad/I need some serious help” (which is a point I have let myself get to before).
Don’t get me wrong – if no one has an idea what’s going on, a conversation like that can be life-saving. But think of it this way – if you take your car in for service regularly, it’s going to be a much cheaper bill than if you wait until the warning light goes on. Think of talking to your friends about your mental health challenges as your regular mental health maintenance.
If your friends know you struggle, it’s much easier to almost casually mention something in conversation than to be wondering when is the best time to bring something up, take a deep breath, and go for it. It’s much easier to reach out and send a text that’s like “hey, I’m having a bad week anxiety-wise” if they already have a baseline on what you’re going through.
And you know what? Just like other hard things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. This may seem hard to believe if mental health is traditionally something you’ve kept silent about, but if it’s something you and your friends talk regularly about, it can slip into conversation naturally, almost seamlessly.
Case in point? I had been having trouble sleeping, which wasn’t helping my anxiety at all, leading to one of those delightful vicious cycle things. I was camping with some friends who are the safe kind that I mentioned above. I found myself talking about my struggles, and what my therapist thought about them without really giving it a second thought. It wasn’t “ok, I need you to know what I’m dealing with and here’s what I’m doing and let’s have a conversation about mental illness.” It was “hey you’re my friends and we’re hanging out talking about life and this is what’s going on in my life.”
And that’s the point. Slowly, it’s becoming more normal for me to discuss mental health, mental illness, and therapy with those close to me. So I didn’t really give it a second thought. I had already started the conversation, so I just kept talking. If you ask me, that is good. And healthy. And normal. And I did that without a therapist, without writing or posting, or going public.
And so can you. You can find your people, you can tell them your deal, and you can just keep talking. Starting might seem daunting at this point, but I promise: it will get easier. And you and your mind are worth it. Do you know what I hope? That one day, talking about mental health, mental illness, therapy and the like is no big deal. That sharing your struggles will be almost as mundane as talking about the weather.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s start talking.