I can say now that I have a mental health condition but back in 2008, that was my secret to keep. I always felt shame and thought that I was somehow different, or less than, those around me. I wanted to explain, to have people understand this was passed down through generations of my family and was not something I controlled. I wanted to speak out, but who would understand?
Ten years after my diagnosis I was looking for a way to come out of the darkness and accept the hand I had been dealt. I knew I needed to move beyond the stigma I was putting on myself. I heard that there was a local walk coming up for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and thought it might be an interesting way to take part in raising awareness, so I signed up as a walker for the NAMIWalks event. I mentioned the walk to some family members in passing and the overwhelming response was, "Can I come?" My immediate reaction was to ask why they would want to.
I was told by my family that they wanted to support me and all the work I had done to reach recovery. That was fine, but they are family, it is their job to offer to support me, right? Their support gave me the confidence to mention the walk to some close friends and shockingly, their response was the same. I spread my net a bit further and heard story after story about an uncle, a friend, a parent or a loved one who also struggles with mental illness. Before I knew it, I was a NAMI Walk team captain. A dozen walkers and $1000 in fundraising later, we were ready for walk day!
When I arrived at the walk, I was handed a pin that said, "It's an illness, not a weakness." It was the epitome of why I was there. It was exactly what I was discovering in myself. Ten years later, I still have that pin as a reminder. Seeing family and friends gather together to support a cause so near to my heart was moving. Joining hundreds of people in raising awareness was even more so. In that crowd of people, I was able to stand proud and know there is no shame in having a mental illness. I was able to play a part in stopping the stigma that myself and so many others were facing. On that cool fall day, I found hope and strength in numbers.
Written by Nikki Rashes