Sharing Can Shape Our Lives
“For what we are, we are by sharing…and it is by sharing that we move toward the light.” These words come from my temple’s prayerbook for the Jewish New Year, and they never fail to re-ignite my sense of purpose each year.
Some seem to need this sense of community more than others, perhaps, but the fact is: we are all on this earth together. All of us. Healthy, or living with an illness or disability. Young, old, in between. Introverts and extroverts. Men, women. Different backgrounds, families, sexual orientations, strengths, challenges.
And what we are, what we become, the mark we leave on this world someday – it’s a journey made meaningful by the sharing. And for that, we need each other.
How Stigma and Self-Stigma Can Lead to Isolation Instead
I recently participated in a wonderful panel called “Self-Stigma Solutions”, alongside three people who live not only with mental illness but also with the stigma that can come along for the ride – both external and internal. Each person shared how they were either told, or told themselves:
- “your life is over”
- “you’ll never amount to anything now”
- “you’ll never have friends”
- “you may as well just give up”
Well – these people did not give up. They were down, but came back up. They not only refused to believe the stigma, they learned to change the messages they were giving themselves. Yes, even with mental illness and all the stigma that comes with it, sharing is possible. One of my fellow panelists is now a lawyer, one a therapist, one a counselor – and all share their stories to help others living with mental illness, and their families. Thank you.
As for Ben, he spent years feeling unemployable – which wasn’t easy. How do you answer when people say, “and what do you do?”, when it’s all you can do to stay out of the hospital? Slowly, though, he began to build upon the sharing he was doing: chores at his group home, a commitment to “Anonymous” meetings, volunteer work, helping us with household chores when visiting. He needed to share, to feel needed. And, eventually, he not only returned to college- he also has been employed part-time for almost 18 months. Ben has a bigger playing field, and a clearer structure, for sharing – and it has added to his recovery in so many ways.
Steps Away from Self-Stigma, and Toward Sharing
Three Steps That Can Help Erase the Negative Messages:
1 – Consider the Source of Negative Messages (they may be ignorant of the facts)
2 – Hang On to the Positives (past success, others who believe in you)
3 – Replacement Messages (e.g. eliminate the word “just” or “only” when you describe what you do)
Yes, this takes patience. Yes, it takes rewording your doubts until they look like problems to be solved instead of obstacles that prevent. Yes, it takes work, and time. But each of them now share their lives, as does my son Ben.
However we find community – a group home, a clubhouse, volunteer work, a meeting, your family – we
each have something to share. And, by sharing, we let our own lights shine as we move toward the greater light we all create together.
See the person, not the symptoms.
See possibility and promise. It’s there, with treatment, respect, patience, community, and hope.