Visibility Matters: Why Sharing Our Stories Will Change the World

Around this time last week, I was a procrastinating graduate student, managing a small blog, with a following of wonderful friends and friends-of-friends who found my writing to be interesting.

As I write to you this week, I’m a writer with a blog that has readers from over 180 countries around the world, and 2.4 million page views this past week alone.

Full-disclosure: I am just a weirdo, living in California, spending too much money at Trader Joe’s, adding too much sugar to my coffee, and hanging out with a pet chinchilla. Sometimes I microwave tortilla chips with shredded cheese and call it nachos. Sometimes I’m too lazy to untie my shoes and I slip them on instead. Sometimes I forget to return my library books.

In other words, I am one person who in so many respects, is very ordinary, and probably a lot like you.

But somehow, I managed to write something that touched people. When I posted the Amanda Bynes piece, your stories came pouring in, and I was set adrift in a sea of voices. Your courage, your strength, and your passion overwhelmed me. It became obvious that struggles with mental health truly reside in every community, in every corner of the world – and that there are so many powerful voices that are waiting to tell their stories, voices that are just as important as mine.

And then I realized: If my voice could be heard around the world, just imagine for a moment what would happen if we ALL used our voices and shared our stories. Imagine the collective power we have when we choose to be vulnerable – when we take this narrative of shame and, standing in contradiction, we use our testimonies to rewrite the story.

The stigma, I believe, cannot survive when so many of us are living proof that there is no shame in mental illness.

I wanted to take the chance to tell you – before the viral hubbub dies down, and we all return to our normal lives – that your voice, and your life, MATTERS. And to all of you who shared your struggle, don’t let the momentum end here. Just like me, you have a story to tell.

If we all use our voices to speak out against this stigma – this attitude that mental illness is a mark of shame, a personal failing, an entertaining spectacle – and instead, use our lived experience to educate and enlighten those around us, it is my sincere conviction that we will change the world.

If for nothing else, we will reach those who suffer alone, and act as reminders that the journey they are on is not one that they take in solitude.

Together, the powerful and imposing sound of our voices, in every community where we reside, will be an undeniable force.

For those who do not understand, our experiences will be a direct contradiction to the media messages that try to strip us of our dignity. Together, by reclaiming our narratives, we will demand compassion and respect. And further, by asserting our humanity, we can advocate for the resources, the awareness, and the assistance necessary, so that no one will suffer needlessly, or die at the hands of these illnesses.

I am just one person. But my voice was heard in Canada, and Malta, and South Africa, and Chile, and China – my voice was heard on nearly every continent. And if my voice could extend so far, and my words could touch so many hearts, just imagine what we can do together.

This is my call to action for you. Do not let your voices end here. Do not let your stories sit in the comments section of this website, or in an email to me, but never be heard anywhere else. Use your words. Assert your dignity. Do not hide. Do not let one more person tell you that you should suffer in silence, because it is silence that takes our lives and the lives of those we love. USE YOUR VOICE! You may not realize the impact it can have on someone else.

And whenever possible, let’s amplify the voices of those who are speaking – continue to share these messages far and wide. Let’s not forget those who are imprisoned, because the system doesn’t know what to do with us other than to lock us up; let’s not forget the black and brown bodies who disproportionately carry the weight of those incarcerations; let’s not forget those who are thrown out of hospitals, because we weren’t sick enough or rich enough for help.

And let’s not forget all the lives that have been lost to these illnesses by suicide – a rate which exceeds the number of lives lost to homicide and war combined – because the options for people with mental illnesses are so limited and restricted, that there may as well be no choices at all.

Do not let this conversation stop here. And do not forget that your voice, and your story, could make all the difference. If the media insists on dehumanizing us, let’s speak louder. Let’s speak so loud that they can no longer deny our presence. Let’s make so much noise that they cannot forget that we are here, and that we aren’t going anywhere.

I commend all my readers for their bravery in the face of such serious struggles. You inspire me to continue doing what I’m doing. And if I was able to inspire you, let me tell you, there is no greater privilege than that.

I believe, sincerely, that your voice matters. I hope that you will make it count.

Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics.

Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com

42 thoughts on “Visibility Matters: Why Sharing Our Stories Will Change the World

  1. Jess K says:

    I came out as bipolar to a group of grad students in a seminar about job anxiety and was unanimously told never to come out as bipolar in professional settings. Even if my research is about mental illness. I look forward to a time where instead of missing out on a job opportunity (either explicitly or implicitly because I’m bipolar) or being a victim of not only a serious illness but people’s actions and attitudes towards me based on my illness are no longer acceptable in a society that supposedly prides itself on being “progressive” or “accepting.” I’m definitely planning on using my voice. Thanks for your encouragement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      It’s really a difficult bind — if we come out, we face the stigma. But if we don’t, the stigma persists. I think it’s an instance of choosing your battles, and knowing when to use your voice effectively, and when it isn’t safe to. I think our intuition can help us figure out the difference.

      I applaud you for your courage in coming out, and more so, for still having the commitment to use your voice in spite of opposition.

      Giving you a high-five from California, for what it’s worth. 🙂

      Like

    • Becca says:

      I had a very similar experience — in college I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It impacted my ability to perform at an internship I needed to complete in order to graduate, and when I finally broke down and told my supervisors and then later told a friend about it she said, “Don’t tell anyone. Never tell anyone. They will never trust you the same way again”. Luckily I was able to somewhat pull it together long enough to graduate (only to crash and burn afterwards) and even though I’m in a much better place these days I still don’t tell anyone. It’s like it’s a huge shameful secret that something in my brain sometimes can’t regulate certain brain chemicals.

      Anyway, you’re not alone. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. mckarlie says:

    It’s great that you’ve found an audience, a lot of people tell their story every day and no one reads it, no one hears them and they feel alone and hopeless. Who can say what makes one person more appealing than another, there are many factors, but it’s good of you to try and encourage others. Just remember there are many many people out there who are trying to share their story and aren’t getting much luck.

    Like

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Absolutely — there are many people sharing their stories that simply aren’t being heard, which is why I also mention the importance of tuning into those voices and sharing their stories.

      Going “viral” is really a lot of dumb luck, but it starts when we support each other and share the articles that are posted. When we see someone writing about something that needs to be said, we need to support them — especially if their voice is one that is often silenced and marginalized in our society.

      We also need to seek those voices out if we aren’t hearing them, and amplify them when we find them.

      Anywho, thanks for your feedback!

      Like

      • mckarlie says:

        Well good on you for being responsible with your voice now you’ve found it! I spend a lot of time seeking out the silent and unheard, I’ve been that person and I know how much it sucks to feel like you’re screaming in pain while the world ignores you. Kudos, keep up the good work 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    • Trinity says:

      It is true that sharing your story and not being heard can be devastating, especially to those who already feel alone and rejected, but that doesn’t mean we should stop. Each of us who speaks up, whether recognized or not, are on the frontlines of change. Those who push for change will always suffer. Like Sam says we can combat this pain by not only speaking up but by listening and sharing the stories of others. I believe one reason people persist in their attitudes toward mental illness is fear. The thought of losing one’s mind scares most more than losing a limb. We who have already experienced some form of mental illness know the pain of it, but we also know it does not have to end one’s chance at a good life. We can’t let our own fear keep us quiet.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mckarlie says:

        If you believe that what I said to Sam was to stop trying, then you have misunderstood my message to Sam. Thanks for your thoughts but I already hold these beliefs and share them often, so I don’t need to be educated on the matter IMO. Enjoy your day.

        Like

  3. Scorpio Scribes says:

    You have a beautiful voice and you have used it perfectly! There are many of us on the front lines and the more voices that get added the better. I have a daughter with bipolar disorder. I used to run a blog about raising a child with bipolar disorder but I worried that I was violating her privacy so I took it down. Let me be clear I admire every parent blogger sharing their experience, this was only my personal feelings. However, my daughter and I discussed it (she is 13) and we are starting a new blog together, to share both sides, raising and being a teen with mental illness. I hope our stories will help someone. Keep up your fantastic writing! I will be here often. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jessica says:

    Not to make light of what is a very serious issue that definitely needs more attention…but I, too, microwave cheese on tortilla chips and call it nachos. In fact, I prefer it.

    Keep fighting the good fight and being a voice for those afraid to speak up.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. lustyglutton says:

    This made me tear up when I was only 1/3 of the way through. I have also written posts about my struggles with mental illness and I know that my voice is very very small, but it is so encouraging to read things like this…and to see that sometimes our small voices echo and echo. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Heather says:

    Thank you for sharing your words, and for opening the eyes of the world. I too have bi-polar disorder…I’ve also been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, and postpardum depression disorder. Ive struggled in the past and I’m still struggling with ignorant people that simply do not understand. People that think it’s ‘all in my head’ and I just have to ‘think positive’, and that I don’t need medicine to cure a disease that’s ‘not real’. It’s heartbreaking when I have to try so hard just to get out of bed and put a smile on my face for my 18 month old so that he will be happy. If more people in the world thought the way you do, then maybe, just maybe, we could see less suicide and less bullying. Every person has a voice, no matter how small. I’ve been following the Amanda Bynes story, and my heart goes out to her. Whether she has a mental illness or not, she is struggling with SOMETHING!! Being born in 1990, I’ve been a fan of Bynes for a long as I can remember… Here’s hoping she can rise above all the animosity and negativity and start fresh!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Giana Lynn says:

    Your writing is spectacular. Keeping our stories private will force the true struggles behind mental illness trapped in the dark. Having the courage to share them shines a light on them – a light that so many people seem to ignore. I want part of what I’m doing as an aspiring musician to be shining a light on my depression, and on depression as an illness in general. I want to give others the courage to share their stories as well. Every voice is so important. No one’s struggle is more important than anybody else’s. I’m really happy to have stumbled up on your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The unchosen one says:

    One thing I have learnt after such havoc days in my country is, “if you want a change then speak out”..I do want to speak out. I do want a change and I want to be the one initiating it but I do feel my words wont back me up for that and till now I havent been able to share my views regarding some political situations. Reading your blog, I feel that i need to stand up against everything curbing me and my thoughts and initiate my blog. Thank you so much for the post. But i feel once i start getting viewers for my current one then i can start a new one so that my words will matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kathy says:

    I’m glad you’re article went viral it is something we all need to hear. As a society we mock anyone who is different from the “norm” whatever that might be. I’ve lost two cousins to suicide due to mental illness and my father attempted suicide once (that we know of) due to severe depression. It’s not a laughing matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Katie says:

    I was so impressed by your article, and to hear it went viral warms my heart. You are using your talents for the good of the world. Keep it up, and thanks for inspiring us to do the same.

    Like

  11. Inez says:

    I’ve suffered from reoccurring deep depressions for many years and having the discussion has eased the pain tremendously as I know I can come out of it but its not a light switch that can be controlled. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with my children as they got older. They all embrace their ‘craziness’ (and with that may i add mental illness also can be extremely talented and creative) but know if they can’t cope they do not need to be embarrassed to receive help. The conversation is key to overcoming the stigma. Thank you.

    Like

  12. embracinglife42910 says:

    Reblogged this on Embracing life: 4/29/10 and commented:
    “If we all use our voices to speak out against this stigma – this attitude that mental illness is a mark of shame, a personal failing, an entertaining spectacle – and instead, use our lived experience to educate and enlighten those around us, it is my sincere conviction that we will change the world.”

    Like

  13. daktardoom says:

    I agree personal experiences are very important. As long as perspective is maintainted. Through statistics, for example.
    Personal aneckdotes are what contribute largely to many of the hysteric situations we’ve had in the media lately. People get so caught up in catching stories that we forget we are only hearing from the people those things happened to, and that the vast majority of people those things didn’t happen to are remaining silent. That’s where statistics come in.
    Crime is a great example. We can clearly see that all crimes have dropped dramatically across the board the past few decades. But at the same time, due to the negative media focus and hysteria it often induces, the FEAR of crime has increased just as dramatically. Even though the odds are smaller than ever that those crimes will happen to us, we increasingly feel vulnurable.
    To see the opposite I suggest you google ‘feel good news’, where instead of mostly negative news they focus on mostly positive. That’s suddenly a completely different experience 😉 Goes to show we need balance of the two. And also the realization that news is something out of the ordinary happening. Every day life going on as it always has is not news.
    So I agree personal experiences are very important, but so is taking a step back to not get caught up and lose perspective.

    Like

  14. Kaylee says:

    This is great! I just read for the first time one of your blogs today, and sent you an email about it! It is amazing what your doing. Words can’t even describe how great it is…

    Like

  15. Rose says:

    Hi Sam
    Thank you for sharing your story. I want to highlight a portion of this entry because it speaks to me so very much of my late father’s struggle with depression and anxiety. He took his own life about a month after Robin Williams died. My mother did everything she could to get him help and he tried valiantly by taking his meds, seeing his therapist etc. But something in the end did not click and my mind wanders to a dark place sometimes thinking that if more resources were available to him like there are with so many medical illnesses, he might still be here.
    “let’s not forget those who are thrown out of hospitals, because we weren’t sick enough or rich enough for help. And let’s not forget all the lives that have been lost to these illnesses by suicide –a rate which exceeds the number of lives lost to homicide and war combined – because the options for people with mental illnesses are so limited and restricted, that there may as well be no choices at all.”

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Mark Timothy Ramsey says:

    You. Are . Fabulous. I have been concerned about your generation- so many saying “I don’t like labels” instead of coming out, so many who meet through the internet rather than large gay social gatherings. Less activism (as far as I can see). But if there are more out there like you, you guys are going to be just fine 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. dbp49 says:

    Some really good words my friend. You keep up the fight, and I’m sure many others will join in and keep the fight up on their end. Who knows, one day its a fight, the next day…its a movement, at least that’s what Arlo Guthrie told me in Alice’s Restaurant, I think. Thanks again, for waking up a lot of sleepy people, myself included, and now, let’s just see where we can go with all this. I’ll read you later.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. pslioon says:

    Well. This is definitely another blessing I’ve been led to this week. You see, I’m just coming out of an episode of my own depressive state. After I hit the wall last week (which is what I call my crash and burn) I found my way back to my journals where I write and have written for years. I decided about a month ago to start a blog. Of course as I sank jnto my dark cloud i didnt write. So just last night I uploaded some of what I had written in the past few days . And today I made an appointment with a therapist. Yes we are all in this together whether you suffer from the disease or not. Hoping all who finds this is inspired to get help or help others.
    Thank you for sharing and helping us all to take a step back and remember we are ALL human and deserve compassion and respect.

    You and others can follow me at http://www.wordstorytime.com. don’t hesitate to nudge me when I’m not keeping current.
    Good Luck!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. smallsmartandsober says:

    I teared up at this and the original as article. The problem with “coming out” is the discrimination we face, especially in professional settings. I have to lie about why I see a doctor or why I’m not feeling well because it would (and has been) held against me.

    Like

  20. smallsmartandsober says:

    I teared up at this and the original as article. The problem with “coming out” is the discrimination we face, especially in professional settings. I have to lie about why I see a doctor or why I’m not feeling well because it would (and has been) held against me.

    Like

  21. Lucy says:

    Hi Sam and moderators!
    I love reading your posts about mental health and after reading this one I finally took the plunge and started my own blog which people have been suggesting I should do for a while. I realise you’re super busy and must get requests all the time but I’ve put a link to my blog including my latest post about stigma and its effects and how we can reduce it if we work together. I’d love you to read it, share it or anything like that so that I can reach a wider audience. I’m housebound with anxiety at the moment and have been for 8 months so I’m limited in how much I can change things face-to-face but I wanted to at least try to make a difference through the internet. Thanks so much for writing this and giving me the push I needed to join you in tackling stigma over the internet! x
    http://inthemidstofmadness.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/ashamed-of-being-mentally-ill-not-me/

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Caya says:

    Hey! So this is the abbreviated story of my illness:

    I’ve been struggling with despression and anxiety ever since I went to pre-school. I used to be tauned by the other kids for a lot of different reasons. Also i had a complicated relationship with my mother. My first diagnosis I got at the age of seven.
    I was always so empathetic and softly hearted, somehow I couldn’t cope with the world.

    I am a self-harmer and dermatillomaniac.

    At the age of 14 I planned my first suicide attempt. But I didn’t go through with it, fortunately. Instead I met people who understood and supported me.

    Still i continued to get worse and was hospitalized after a meltdown, the year I turned 18.
    I was in for 4 months.

    I am now 25. Last year I had another breakdown and had to go back to therapy. I have a hard time trusting anyone, believing in myself or even embracing me. Some days I just believe I deserve whatever is coming for me – but how do you explain self-hate to normal people? It is ruining my life!

    I have just been diagnosed with bipolar and borderline.
    And it scares me. I don’t have anyone to talk to about this…

    Like

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