It is personal to me and often uncomfortable to write about my past. I say this because in my efforts to be honest and forthcoming or helpful and revealing, I have found that honesty can backfire when it comes to a person’s mental health.
It is safe to say that we live in a world of judgment. It is also safe to say that rather than honoring a person for their personal triumphs to overcome, we have become a society that notes the problem more than the triumph.
I have met with leaders and executives who struggled in silence because they believed their struggles would become ammunition for those who looked to shoot them down. I have met with people who ran large companies and lived with their secrets, only to meet me under the protection of anonymity and say, “Yeah, me too.”
Therefore, it is also personal and equally uncomfortable when I regard my old self or the truths that I’ve had to overcome. I say this with the complete understanding that I am no longer the person I was. My life has changed completely. I have grown. I have improved. I have changed and I have matured.
I have moved away from my old self and I no longer regard my old beliefs; however, I am still me. I am a person in this world who, like millions of others, have had to work and live through specific challenges.
I have a history and a background that is often misdiagnosed because of stigma and critical judgment.
In the eyes of so many, the fact that my background does not include a true high school or college experience is somehow seen as less-than. The fact that my past is seasoned by the reflections of poor choices and symptoms of mental illness has left me open to some harsh criticisms.
Therefore, I call out the truth of my past to remove my fears and instead, I use my truth as my shield. I use my truth as a challenge to question the diversity, equity and inclusion of our working environment.
I am not a college man by any means. I never had a real high school experience. Regardless of my accomplishments, there are occasions where my achievements have been disregarded. I’ve been told that I don’t “Fit” the mold; however, I go back to the inclusive intention of diversity, to which I charge its sincerity and question its dignity.
I have never written a paper in a college class. I never lived in a dorm. Or even before that, I never took driver’s education. I never finished my traditional education yet, somehow, here I am seasoned by my life and educating others in ways to overcome themselves. I had to work throughout my life. I had to feed myself. I had to nurture myself. But more, I had to learn how to survive and navigate through my emotional distractions.
I am contracted as a motivational speaker. My presentations discuss mental health awareness. I go over the common bouts we share. I talk about the hurdles we face and the obstacles in our daily life. I have given college lectures. I have addressed law enforcement, political officials and, yes, I’ve made my way onto the news and into the newspapers.
I have been invited into classrooms from grade six and up. As a specialist, I have had the fortunate pleasure to sit on a panel with county executives and discuss my involvement in the war against the opiate epidemic.
I had the opportunity to address teachers and school administrators in a presentation to discuss behavioral health. In fact, I blew up the room and within minutes, I showed them a piece of me and regarded the importance of teenage health.
At the end of this presentation, I placed a picture of my Father on the podium. The crowd was curious and stunned. I explained that I brought this picture because my Father never had the chance to see it. He never had the chance to see what I do because he died when I was young. Or more accurately, my Father saw me when I was not well. He never had the chance to see who I’ve become. He never saw me perform so I brought him with me.
Recently, someone remarked about my background. In an effort to cancel me and assassinate my character, someone chose to use my background against me. They took a shot at me. But why?
I had to think about this.
I wondered which part of my background was disturbing. Was it the fact that I openly regard my relationship with depression? Is it my efforts to uncover certain truths about bullying, which exist beyond the playgrounds at elementary school? Or, is it that I look to uncover personal and social injustices and discuss the uncomfortable truths about mental illness?
Was it my credentials that caused someone to accuse me of being disturbing? Was it my hours spent on suicide prevention? Was it my deployments to emergency rooms? Or, could it be my empowerment classes? Is it my recovery? Is it the fact that I am a person who openly discusses my personal challenges? In which case, if this is true then I go back to my statement – it’s not that a person overcomes, it’s the fact that a person had to overcome something in the first place and this has become the fact that gossips look to chew.
Or, this person might have a problem with my delivery, which is possible because whether I am received or not, my goal is to help at least one person in my audience. My aim is to try and repay the kindness that was given to me. But more, my main objective is to spread an ongoing awareness. I look to point out that everyone is recovering from something.
The world can be a lonely place but this does not mean we are all alone. We all have a background. We all have secrets. We have a past. We have a family history. We have sins and although some have more than others, we all have a cross to bear.
Maybe this is the disturbing part. Maybe this hits way too close to home and rather than face their truths, people choose to slay one another.
Some people are more forthcoming than others. Some wear a mask. Some hide in plain sight and some hurt. Some are so tired of hiding in plain sight that the only way for them to be free is to stand up, come forward and say, “Goddammit, this is me!”
“This is who I am, faults and all, and I’m tired of hiding.”
During my journey through life, I eventually grew tired of being afraid. I was afraid to be judged. In fact, I’m still afraid.
I was afraid of what people might say or think.
This is me and whether I succeed and walk tall or fall and land on my face, at least I had the guts to be honest about who I am. At least I never hid behind a keyboard or took to a slander campaign. To be clear, this is why I use my truths as my shield, openly, to keep me safe.
I have been faced with stigma throughout my entire life. However, I grew tired of hiding. So, I chose to take a stand.
As I have written to you before, I am on a journey. I am in search of answers and looking to make connections. But more, I am in search of the path that will allow me to complete my circle; so that at my end, I can say that I have done my share to accomplish my dream. I’ve left no stone unturned. I said what I had to say and wrote all that I could write.
I often find myself back to a quote from Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 11. “When I was a child, I thought as a child and spoke the way a child speaks.”
When I grew, I was supposed to put my childish ways behind me. Hence, it is personal and often uncomfortable to speak about my youth. It is equally humbling and often mournful when I write about the regrettable yesterdays of my life. This does not mean that I am willing to forfeit my youthfulness. However, I am not a child anymore and the last thing I want is to still be afraid of the dark.
However, I am currently on a new journey (so-to-speak) and for the moment, I am successfully moving to a new level of awareness.
I am working and growing. I am seeking education and undergoing training. Nevertheless, I am fortunate to have what I have yet, there are times when I am unfortunately unaware of myself.
There are times when I give way to the outside influence of someone’s opinion. So, to be transparent, this is how I respond. This is how I destroy the mean spirits and the stigma. This is how I rid myself of the internal bully that cares too much about what people think or say.
But more than this, my actions are taken to revive my truth that I am a person with all the same rights as anyone else. Therefore, I have taken the time to use my right and place myself here, in front of you, to declare that I have lived and died and earned my seat.
Critics only criticize. But do they dare?
Do they open themselves up to interpretation? Do they even know what the word bravery means?
The world is filled with critics.
I know this and so do you.
There are times when I think about the great thefts of our life. I think about the great thefts of our time, which are irreplaceable. I think about the waste of rage and the destruction of envy. I think about the waste of comparisons and the missed opportunities that can never be re-lived. I think of the energy it takes and the wasteful consumption of hatred.
It has taken a long time to come to terms with my true self. Each day, this is my goal; to be one step closer to the meaning of life, to be closer to the realm of personal understanding, to breathe, to live, love, laugh and learn to the best of my possible ability.
I have been called a loser. I have been called a bum. I have been called stupid. I have been told that I would never reach a true level of success. I was told that at best, I would be suitable to work in a jail or prison system. I was told to stick with my blue collar job. I was told that because I am who I am, I would never be more than what I am. And what am I?
I am a person who has lived in this world for nearly 50 years. I am less than one month away from a 31st anniversary which has kept me safe and alive. If you are reading this in print then you are reading one of my ten published books.
This is my action. This is the way I overcome the stigmas and the judgments against me; but more, this is the way I defy those who chose to count me out.
But why let them know?
Why dignify them with a response?
If I write this then it would obviously mean that I was hurt by this; in which case, their mission was accomplished. And I agree, it was.
I did hurt. Know what else, I’m still here.
I’m still working and regardless of what someone thinks of me, I will not stop my search to find happiness just to satisfy their discomfort.
Instead, I am committed to this:
If someone tells me what I can’t do or that I’ll never make it, I will not oblige them by proving them right.
Instead, I say to myself, keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Don’t give in.
Imagine the action and make it so.