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