As someone who writes and speaks openly about serious mental health issues and my experience, I do get asked many questions. Some of the questions are constructive, like how to find help or support and other questions are asked about how I deal with mental illness. Occassionally, I get asked very personal questions, and I try my best to keep boundries. I understand that answering questions will lead to a better understanding about mental illness which will end the stigma.
Of the hundreds of questions I've been asked, one situation stands out that gave me clarity to how a lot of people view mental illness. I was away at a workshop where I had read my story and helped the audience learn the storytelling process. At the end of the day, after speaking with many people interested in mental health, a man came up to me as I was getting my things together to head back to the hotel. I assumed it was just someone saying that he liked the workshop or the piece I read. Instead, he came up and explained that he knew someone with a certain personality disorder and wanted know more about it. I had to answer honestly that I didn't know too much about personality disorders and didn't want to give him any false information. He asked if I knew any statistics about the personality disorder, and again, I said I didn't but there is a ton of great information online. What he said next was so surprising to me that I stood there speechless for at least a minute...
"Well, do you know like approximitly how many people with this disorder actually end up being successful in life? Like a percentage?"
Of course I didn't know a percentage about a disorder I wasn't familiar with, especially a percentage about a question I found offensive. I thought for a minute about how to put all my racing thoughts and responses into an answer that would make sense to someone who didn't understand the concept that I write about everyday: A person with mental illness is still a person, and a diagnosis doesn't determine who he or she is as an individual. I answered by saying, "I don't live my life based on statistics. Even with a mental illness, she still has the potential and ability to be who she wants in life. She can define her own meaning of success."
One of the most heartbreaking days of my life was when I had to withdraw from my senior year of college. I thought that made me a failure. Once I began writing, I realized that this is my future, and this will be my "success story." Mental illness may have changed my plan, but I believe I'm where I'm meant to be. Society may think that people with mental illness won't have a meaningful and happy life, but they are wrong. We don't have to live our lives with limitations. Work hard and never give up and prove to the world that you are stronger than mental illness. Dream big, always.