I want to be a mental health advocate. I have come to accept my own depression and I want to let people know that there is nothing wrong with having depression or any other mental illness. I know this work can save lives and help me grow as well. I'm done living in the dark and pretending like this doesn't exist.
But at the same time, it's not like I make my statement and I'm done. These steps are opening doors that I'm not sure I'm ready to walk through. I have issues with anxiety, I think and worry about things. Change scares me, putting myself out there scares me, and taking risks in general scares me.
The most recent door that has opened for me is an opportunity to share my story in public. My pastor is aware of the process I've been going through with coming out in the open and working to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness. This week he asked me if I would be willing to share my story with the congregation in church. I was thinking he meant giving a 2-3 minute testimony near the beginning of the service. But in fact what he meant is my speaking would replace the sermon. Or rather, I guess my talk would BE the sermon.
As he brought this up to me in person earlier this week I told him I was interested. But inside I was thinking there is no way in hell I'm getting up in front of the whole congregation and sharing my story. Here's what was running through my mind. I can't do this. I don't know what to say. I'll freeze up, panic, shake, shut down, etc... Who would be there? What if _____ shows up? These are just some of the fears that immediately began racing through my head. And yet, I told him I'd think about it. I figured this was something that would happen down the line and I'd have plenty of time to hopefully warm up to the idea.
Then just a couple of days ago I received an email from him giving me an actual date, September 28th, that he would like me to speak in church. Again the fears started running wild and the anxiety started running through my body. My mind was racing. Public speaking in general scares me. I mean, I'm an elementary teacher and I speak in front of kids (and often parents who may be in the room) all the time. But this is different. This is new.
I often talk about my depression here, but anxiety is something I also have issues with. I've definitely been having some anxiety with this. Intrusive thoughts. Difficulty quieting my head enough to fall asleep. General nervousness. So part of the struggle with both depression and anxiety isn't just the depression and anxiety, it's the negative thinking and self judgment that go with it. So I'm working on that with this whole opportunity to speak in church and share my story. What if it's just scary and anxiety producing because it's new to me? There are plenty of things that used to scare me terribly that I do now regularly with little or no fear. Maybe with practice speaking in public about my depression can be the same.
I'm going to do it. I'm going to share my story for whoever shows up at church on September 28th. For years I have let fear rule me. As a teen and young adult my fear and anxiety played a role in nearly every decision I made. Since starting therapy nearly 25 years ago it's become a process of learning to live out of love instead of fear. It's an extremely slow process... So despite the fact that I am really scared and full of self-doubt at the moment I'm doing this.
There's also something else I sense within me. Excitement! Behind and mixed in with all the fear and doubt I'm currently experiencing is excitement. I'm not excited about the actual act of getting up there and speaking, but I'm excited about the effect it may have on me as well as others. I'm excited about a chance to touch other people's lives. Somewhere inside me hidden amongst this fear I know the message I have to share is powerful and that speaking up about mental illness can change and save lives. This is an amazing opportunity, and I'm not going to let my fear keep me from it this time.