Last night, I had the privileged of attending the unveiling of Mind Matters, a temporary exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa intended to raise awareness around and reduce the stigma of mental illness.
SCI gets to host the exhibit, which originated in Minnesota, before it’s booked out for five years to other museums. And, Capital Crossroads committees have programmed a series of events tied to the run. (On day one in my new job, I got to jump into the planning for the “Understanding Cultural and Racial Trauma” session!) We’re also incredibly grateful to donors who are backing a free day on March 10 so anyone in the community can access the exhibit and accompanying resource fair.
I knew I wanted to share a photo from the event to help spread the word that it was happening, and my typical promo-type post was going to say something thanking all of our community leaders for creating momentum around this conversation. But then I decided to get real and share about my family’s struggles with mental health, and how that has impacted me, personally:
Opening that old wound was scary. But it made me really reckon with the fact that I was afraid that if I shared my truth, my friends and family and colleagues would look at me sideways. That there’d be some stigma, or assumptions raised. I realized that by holding back I wasn’t doing my part to really encourage and normalize conversation on this topic. It’s one thing to simply post #endthestigma and another to get vulnerable.
I honestly had never really considered myself as someone who was impacted by mental illness. For whatever reason, that wasn’t the lens I viewed depression with when I was growing up. Mental illness was schizophrenia, bipolar disorder. But my dad’s inability to get out of bed was not mental wellness. And my teenage mind brainstorming a way to land myself in the hospital for a couple of days — not to do irreparable harm, but to buy myself a little time to not have to deal with things — was not mental wellness.
I have always let myself feel deeply the full range of emotions, and I’ve been able to ask for help. I’ve still never seen a therapist, although last year when I was struggling with a real crash in confidence and felt that spider crawling back from that old familiar place, a few friends offered a referral. They helped me see that I wasn’t OK. This time, when I made a plan, it was to prioritize my overall health.
I’m happy to say that, this year, the sun has really been shining for me. I’ve given myself more grace, and weirdly turned into one of those early morning workout people. Sweating before sunrise has given me more energy — and I’ve been really intentional in where I reinvest that energy. Joe’s been awesome about encouraging me to continue to do the things I love, which means I’m going to run DAM to DSM (thus the inspired workout routine!) and I’ve registered for an Iowa Summer Writing Festival weekend workshop at the University of Iowa because I just might have the beginnings of a novel rumbling around and I want to nurture that.
I know I’m never going to get the time back with my dad. I can’t take back how my anger and resentment about his disease made the struggle of those last years even harder for us both. He died three days after my high school graduation. I just want to make sure that I am not going to perpetuate a cycle. That I give my kids tools to manage stress, and to create an open channel of communication when they’re grappling with feelings they don’t know how to address. I want to make it OK, and I know there’s a lot I can learn to be a better advocate. I hope you’ll join me.