I saw their Cheer sessions advertised on social media and knew instantly that this was my chance. My chance to use the colors and textures of paint to show everyone just how much pain I’ve been in for so long. All the anxiety, the sadness, the anger, the despair. All hidden under a carefully constructed layer of superficiality and fake smiles.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been taking care of others. I was mom, wife, sister and once in a while, a daughter. Mental illness has been at the forefront of my life since I can remember. Whether it be my father dealing with his anxiety and self-loathing, or my brothers and their anxiety and depression. I always had to set myself and my issues on the back burner. Bury all my feelings deep enough that I could deal with everyone else around me and not be distracted by my own. This is how I’ve been conditioned to behave, to survive. It needs to stop.
I’ve always been my harshest critic. Always so malicious, callous and cold. But it didn’t start with me. It started long ago, with a father who always thought I could do better, be better. I took on a role far beyond my years, adapting in ways I’d never wish upon anyone. Having to be an adult when you’re a kid forces you to grow up quickly, robbing you of your innocence and your chance to grow in a natural way.
My biggest issue has always been wrestling with that voice in my head that tells me I’m not enough. Not a good enough daughter, student, sister, partner, worker, or person. It always seems that no matter what I accomplish or what I sacrifice for the sake of others, its never enough. And when you think you’ve finally done something right, that voice reminds you of all your shortcomings and breaks you back down again.
That’s where my anxiety comes in. It claws its way into my chest, pressing down onto my lungs until it takes my breath away. Everything that I feel in that moment, sadness, emptiness, fear, anger and despair, makes me wish I could claw out my own heart and tear it to pieces. Because if I can’t feel, it won’t hurt, I can be at peace. I can be an empty shell littered with claw marks, slashes and tears of my own making. But at the same time, I want to feel. I want to feel all the pain and suffering I have experienced over my lifetime, because it reminds me that there are good times. There is happiness, the silver lining in the dark clouds that hang overhead. I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin again. But, in order to do that, I need everyone to see me. The real me..
That’s what I’m doing here today at Lady Luck. I’m peeling back all the layers I have so carefully constructed around all my imperfections, my anxiety, my lack of self-worth, my self-loathing. To show everyone, that behind the mask of someone who is in control, who always seems to have it together-is struggling. That underneath it all,
I’m just a girl, fighting every day to keep herself together. So, have a look, see how I feel on the inside as I bring everything out to the surface for everyone to see. As you look at me, think of all the people you know who suffer from mental illness. Maybe even yourself. And imagine what the world would be like if everyone could see your pain reflected on your body like any other injury or disease. To be taken seriously when you tell someone you can’t go out tonight because you’re feeling anxious. To be understood when you tell your boss you need to take the day off because you’re feeling sick or you can’t get out of bed. Because even though they can’t see it the way you can, doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Its time we bring all that inner pain, suffering, anger and anguish to the surface. To paint a realistic, raw and unedited picture of the truth of what it feels like to live with mental illness. To see the damage it wreaks on our bodies and minds, created by others and ourselves each and every day. Let’s shine a light into the darkest of places, and show everyone what living with a mental illness looks like. Bring the inside to the outside. Let’s end the stigma around mental illness.