Earlier this summer, I fractured my arm. (Yes, at a bachelorette party in Nashville. No, that's not what this story is about, if you can believe it.) I had to have surgery on my wrist which left me with a pretty angry looking 3" scar running down my arm. A few weeks after surgery, I was hanging out with some family. I took off my brace and compression sleeve to do my hourly PT exercises.
"Woah, gnarly scar," commented my cousin.
"I know, right?" I agreed. "I love scars. I think it's a good one."
He chuckled. "Looks like you tried to off yourself."
I looked down at my wrist.
Oh my god. It did.
It looked like a suicide scar.
I tried to play it off. "Guess I was serious about it." I laughed halfheartedly as my stomach turned.
People were going to think I tried to kill myself.
"So what?" You may say. "Who cares what people think?"
But for me, it's not that simple. When I was a teenager, I was often suicidal. I had an eating disorder. I self-harmed. I had deep and prolonged feelings of loneliness and despair. And though my teens were probably the lowest point in my emotional life, they were not an isolated event. I've struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I was born into a family with mood disorders on all sides; I barely stood a chance.
But, you know, these are not the things I typically share with people. My job, my husband, my dog: those are choice topics of conversation. My mental illness? Not so much.
I recognize that on the outside, I pretty much have it together. I’ve got a solid job, a wonderful husband, close friends, a nice condo in the city. I'm reasonably attractive. I have some talents. I can even be extroverted when the mood strikes.
What is far less apparent when you look at me is the long years of internal warfare that I’ve waged. As a 30-something, I have finally learned to turn to therapy, spirituality, and medication to help hurdle my genetic obstacles, but it hasn't been an easy or a particularly pretty road. And it's never been something I wanted to publicize. I've been perfectly happy to live behind a facade of normality for all but those closest to me, to post my happy pictures and to share my funny stories. I've rarely shown the world my Other Side of Normal.
Having this scar forces me to confront that false reality. It makes me realize that speaking my truth is important, because stigma is strong. And yet, so are we. The only burden of shame we carry is the that which we put on ourselves.
If we believe this, then silence is our biggest enemy. Silence leads to the illusion of solitude and of singularity which inevitably leads to loneliness. Loneliness leads to hopelessness which often leads to desperation, and the land of desperation is where we lose people every day.
Silence has been my oppressor for a long time, and I know it is a demon that haunts too many other people. I hope that by coming out of the shadow of my own struggles, I can help shine light onto someone else’s.
There's a life on the Other Side of Normal, and the grass gets pretty green here, too.