This post includes the text and video of the speech I gave at the 2016 YWCA Tribute to Women Gala where I was honored with the Next Generation Award. Enjoy!Speech given: 10/21/16
I feel so honored to be celebrating with such an outstanding group of people tonight. I'd like to thank the women of the YWCA for all they do to empower women and girls to be the best they can be and to work hard to make a difference. Thank you for organizing this inspiring evening and bringing the community together.
Today I've been reflecting on how I got to this point, where I feel comfortable sharing my obstacles to encourage others. I've realized that it's the people in my life and what they've taught me about giving, courage, and loving unconditionally that has shaped who I am and what I hope for the future.
Some of the most caring and dedicated individuals I've met on my journey are the mental health specialists who have been helping me heal and cope with my struggles. They have truly gone out of their way to get to know me as a person, not me as a diagnosis, and they make sure I'm getting the best treatment possible. Thank you to all who have worked with me and shown me that I can live with mental illness but still pursue my dreams.
I truly wouldn't be standing in this spot tonight if it weren't for Eva, Sari, Julie, and all those involved with the TMI Project. Sharing my story with the group of strangers in my workshop was the most liberating experience I had ever had. I finally understood that everyone has something in their past that they feel afraid to talk about, and I wasn't alone. Knowing that I could help others by sharing my experience made me feel like I could make a difference in the world, and that was a feeling I never thought I would have again. They've taught me that every person has a voice. And many times, the strongest voices come from those who believe they should remain silent.
Thank you to my beautiful friends. They have been there to support me on my best and worst days, and have never made me feel like having a mental illness makes me a different person. When I was in the hospital, they would send flowers and cards, but when they'd call or visit me, our conversations were no different than if we had been out to lunch. All my friends have played a part in making sure I stay true to who I am.
I've been blessed with the most supportive and accepting family who has shown me so much loyalty and love. My younger brother and sister, both teenagers, have been so strong over these past few years, and they probably don't know how much their older sister actually looks up to them. Tonight I have my Uncle Cappy and Aunt Donna here, as well as my Grandma, who also happens to be my stunning guest. I was close with them all far before my mental illness, and when things did become difficult, they stayed by my side and offered their help without a second thought. I also have extended family like my cousins Ellen and Laurel who came into my life after hearing about my struggles because they genuinely cared about me and wanted to offer support. Thank you to everyone in my family. You've all stepped up when most people would step out.
I know that I had someone watching over me last year when I met my psychiatric service dog, Joey. He has been able to restore so much that I had lost when I developed my illness. I can go out in public by myself now, stay home alone, and drive at night. Things I wasn't sure I'd ever get back. He's inspired me to educate about service dogs and advocate for myself and others. I know that with Joey by my side, I can accomplish anything. Thank you, my sweet, slightly lazy, ice cream loving best friend.
Above all, my parents have had the biggest impact on where I am today. They are the examples of the person I strive be and display the qualities I'd like to help bring out in others: understanding, selflessness, courage, and perseverance. They've taught me the most valuable lesson I know. My past and present struggles don't define who I am and shouldn't stop me from being generous, determined, and the best woman I can be. What matters most is the kindness I show to myself and the kindness I show to others. Thank you Mom and Dad, you are both my heroes.
When I first became ill and for over 2 years after, I would lay in bed at night and think, "Why is this is happening to me." Now with the support, encouragement, and acceptance I've received from others, I've been able to take control over my life and embrace my journey. Now, when I lay in bed at night I think about how grateful I am that my life has turned out this way. Everyone deserves that kind of transformation. Everyone deserves to find their strength. And everyone deserves to be heard. I have found my hope, and now I want to give it to others.