By: Laura Lee Sturm
“If we knew each others’ secrets… what comfort we should find.”
It has taken me a really long time to write this post.
It has taken me a really long time to write this post, because I am afraid. I am afraid of what will happen after I have spoken my truth.
For those who know me, I believe you would agree that I am, or at least try to be, an advocate for the underrepresented and misunderstood. I believe it is important that we value the identity and character of each individual – that means not only asking who someone is but asking why they are that way. We justify our own decisions and actions based off our pasts, why do we not offer that same benefit of the doubt to others? We owe each other more than to make rash judgments based on what we see at face-value. We all have a story and a moral obligation to be willing to listen and learn from each other. It can be easy to forget to listen, but too often we intentionally refuse to speak.
I like to say that one reason I advocate for others’ well-being is because I know what it feels like to be misunderstood. Two years ago I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I cannot begin to describe the shame and fear I felt when I first started seeking help my freshman year of college and the bittersweet emotions that followed my diagnosis. There was finally a reason and an explanation for my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The things in my past that confused and troubled me suddenly made sense. I was so relieved to know there was a reason for what I had been going through alone.
The hard part of the diagnosis, however, was that I still felt alone. I finally felt there was a justification for my actions, but how was I supposed to explain that to other people? I could see I was disappointing people around me, and I wanted so badly to tell them what was influencing my actions, but my reality told me that I would be punished for telling people I was sick. I didn’t want anyone to think I was making excuses for myself or that I wasn’t normal. Society told me I was sick, and I believed it. I never for one moment thought that by having the courage to admit I needed support meant that people would actually support me. I never had the backbone to stand up for myself in my own fight, just the wishbone that someone would fight for me.
I refused to talk about “my problem.” I was afraid of what people would think of me. I was afraid that people would call me crazy. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get a job after I graduated. I was afraid that people would judge without understanding.
I am still so afraid. I am so tired of being afraid. I share this story because I spend my days applauding others for their courage and working with people who are willing to share their stories with me. While my illness in no way identifies me as a person, one cannot fully know me without knowing what I live with; I cannot fully give to others without accepting what I live with. It is time we live our lives out loud and celebrate who we are, even the parts society tells us to be ashamed of.
We are who we are. We are not who society tells us to be. We cannot let societal norms scare us into a corner. We can be better than that. We are better than that. You can make a difference in someone’s life. You can start by making a difference in your own.