On Saturday, I went with my two brother-in-laws and my father to a Beer Fest. This was a place where there was a large number of craft breweries letting people sample their beers 2oz at a time. And, while I was there, I was wearing my Here/Hear T-shirt, mainly because it is one of my comfiest shirts. As I walked around, one of the guys pouring beer looked at me and said, “Here/Hear? I love those guys.” I was a bit taken aback as I did not expect anyone to recognize the shirt as we are still a rather small nonprofit trying to do big things. And then he said, “I love what they do. Do you know what they do?” I said I was familiar. And he went back to pouring beer and I was left dumbfounded.
Now, for those that do not know, which is probably most of you, I am the founder and Executive Director of Here/Hear. I run it out of my house as we have no need for a building at the moment. I do the work while I watch my youngest son, a four-year old crazed little boy that we inappropriately named Ryder, because he is never just the “rider” but usually the driver. My dog is currently sitting at my feet as I type. It’s a small set-up but we are able to accomplish our goals through this set up. So, yes, I am familiar with what Here/Hear does. Almost everything it does is done by me, but I did not want to tell the brewer that.
This surprise from the brewer struck me because I was not expecting it and I still feel like what we do is somewhat small. It has not lived into my ideas yet…which is probably a good thing.
But, this brewer’s mention of our good work came after I had recently talked to some people and they said that I was “inspirational” and “courageous” for talking about my story and starting Here/Hear. Their thought was that it is very hard to talk about things like mental illness and it must have taken much courage for me to begin speaking up and talking about my own struggle with bipolar and anxiety. And they found this courage to speak up inspirational, that maybe they would share their own story and do something about what they cared about in their lives.
Can I tell you a secret though?
Nothing I have done has been courageous. I’m not courageous for telling my story. I am glad it has inspired people, but, really, I am kind of a coward. You see, I had a job where I was told that I would be fired if I talked about my mental illness, that people did not need to know about it and that I would be judged by it. The fact that I could not tell people, especially some of my friends that I worked with closely, really ate me up. It really hurt me and caused me pain to live with such a large part of my life in a private closet. It was not fair or right, but that’s what I did: I just kept things very private. I was afraid and let what my boss told me drive a decision to stay quiet.
Eventually, I came to the place where I was writing and working online and people were going to find out that I had a mental illness. So, I told my boss I was going to tell and I started to tell people. And my boss was wrong. He was very, very wrong. People accepted me, they cared about me, they embraced me, they asked why I had not told them sooner. You see, with the right people around, it is not courageous to share your story: it is simply what you do. You share life together. I found this quite empowering and, if I am honest, I got a little prideful and “puffy-chested” about sharing my story. It got me a little “high,” if you will. It made me feel really good.
So, it was never courage that resulted in me sharing my story. It was other people’s courage to accept me despite not understanding what it means to live with bipolar. I’m not courageous because it makes me feel good to tell my story, to allow other people into my life. I’m glad that might inspire people, but this is therapeutic for me and gives me purpose to my life, something I might not have otherwise. And, honestly, I get off on the fact that people love me and embrace me in this story. It’s not altruistic: I speak and share because it helps me. I will never go back to the place where I was forced to live where my story had to remain silent.
No, I share my story and I talk about my illness for me. It’s not courageous, but it is necessary.