Those living with mental illness asked to speak up, break stigma
Sit down and have a conversation with Iowa City blogger Brook Easton and you won’t walk away with the impression that she is a person coping with health challenges. And, frankly, that’s the point.
Easton, a wife and mom of two boys, is like so many others — a quarter of all Americans, according to national studies — who live with a mental illness. It’s a challenge she knows well, one that she shares with her father and a son.
“So many times, to a person seeing only the outside, it is invisible,” she said. “People see someone holding down a job or going to school. What they can’t see is what is happening inside that person’s head.”
And, when the public is handed a glimpse of mental illness, it is too often tied to tragedy, such as the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. It’s rare for everyday people to be open about their disease and the challenges it poses. But that’s what Easton hopes will happen this May at the Coralville Performing Arts Center.
The upcoming performance and non-profit behind it are known as “This Is My Brave.” It is a live show featuring stories from those living with and touched by mental illness, taking direct aim at stereotypes and misconceptions. It is people being brave enough to tell their own stories, in the best way they know how.
“It takes a whole bunch of courage to come out and tell your story,” Easton acknowledges.
Too many times people are told or tell themselves they only need to be happy, or have a better sense of humor so they can snap out of it.
“People don’t understand this is an illness like diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. Would you withhold medicine from someone who has diabetes? Would you tell them that what they have, their disease, is not real? No, you wouldn’t,” she said.
“Despite having scientific proof that mental illness is a disease just like so many others, we still don’t treat it as an actual illness.”
Easton (redheadreverie.com) shared her story online and connected with Virginia-based blogger Jennifer Marshall (bipolarmomlife.com). They began to comment on each other’s work and the connection fused. Soon Marshall, who worked with Anne Marie Ames, to produce the first “This Is My Brave” in the Washington, D.C. area in 2014, asked about organizing a similar show in Iowa City.
“All of the pieces really just fell into place — it was just meant to be,” Easton said.
Easton gathered a team of organizers and crowdsourced funding. This week is last call for submissions, which can range from artwork to poetry, from essays to original music.
“It’s been really nice to see the eclectic mix [of submissions thus far] because I know people express themselves in so many different ways, especially if they are healing from mental illness or going through mental illness,” she said.
“I know there are people in the Corridor who want to tell their story. I also know some of them are scared and nervous. But the more we talk about it, the more we get it out there, the less scary and nerve-wrecking it becomes.”
All submissions go to a “very loving and caring place,” Easton said. The show’s other organizers have their own connections to mental illness.
“The public can be assured that when these pieces are being created and submitted that they will be viewed by individuals who really get it,” she said.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published on Feb. 8, 2015.