March 30, 2011

For those who haven’t found their voice

Filed under: Contributing Blogger — Marc Peters @ 11:08 am

People are fond of telling me how great it is that I’m able to speak up for those that do not have a voice. In this case, they are referring to other people with mental health disorders as the voiceless. I don’t think that people who have trouble advocating for themselves are voiceless. I just think they haven’t found their voice yet.  I’ve been reflecting on that a lot lately as I’ve struggled to find new words to string together for a compelling blog post. I’ve found that I put tremendous pressure on myself to speak for the entire community when really all I can be expected to do is tell my story and hope that others can take something from it.

I became an outspoken advocate almost by accident. When I was released on furlough during an inpatient stay in 2005, Facebook still had a part of the personal profile that allowed students to list their “summer plans”. In my post-psychosis stupor and anti-psychotic haze, I went ahead and listed “recovering from a psychotic episode.” What did I care? I did not/could not process the consequences. As a result, my disorder and my struggles with mental health issues have never been a secret. I’m incredibly thankful for that momentary lapse in judgment. Living with bipolar disorder is hard enough without having to hide it. If no one knew, I couldn’t count on friends, classmates, and professors for understanding. If no one knew, I’d forever be anxious, scrambling to cover for manic behavior or exhausting myself pretending to be fine when I barely could get out of bed in the morning.

I’ve often heard people in the mental health community say, “I can’t tell anyone. I don’t want people to know. I don’t know how they will take it. Everyone I’ve told so far has dismissed me as crazy or dismissed my issue as not a real health problem.” I get that. I really do and I completely respect you if you make the choice to live privately. However, I do urge you to reconsider. We can pass laws that prevent discrimination based on mental health issues. We can shout until we are blue in the face raising awareness. Until more people are talking openly about the realities of living with mental health issues, we will not win the hearts and minds of those who lack understanding. How can we possibly expect them to understand if we don’t educate them about it? If the only image that comes to mind when people mention mental illness is that of a violent madman, we will never make more than halting gains. It can get exhausting feeling like you’re everyone’s mental health tutor, but it is a price we must pay if we want progress.

At the end of the day, this isn’t about me and this isn’t about you. This is about the 14-year-old experiencing suicidal thoughts for the first time, who doesn’t know where to turn and just feels hopeless and so different from everybody else. It’s about the 32-year-old struggling with anorexia who doesn’t know where to turn for help and whose friends are afraid to intervene because they don’t really know what to do. It’s about setting an example. This doesn’t it mean it won’t be hard. It doesn’t mean that the challenges of living with a mental health issue will magically go away. It only means that we owe it to ourselves and for all those who come after us to do all we can to make it better.

You don’t have to make a proclamation to the world in order to find your voice. Take small steps, like talking with friends or family members, co-workers or classmates. Challenge yourself to have one difficult conversation. Just know that you have a community of support here.




  1. Marc, well said! Individually we can make a difference, together we can make changes! Thank you for a very thoughtful post!!!

    Comment by Cinda Johnson — March 30, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  2. Ditto what Cinda said. I loved you answer “recovering from a psychotic episode.” What did I care? I did not/could not process the consequences. I never thought about it that way; not being able to process beyond the admission.

    Thanks Marc! Lisa

    Comment by Lisa Fuetsch — March 30, 2011 @ 12:01 pm

  3. Funny thing, I’ve recently decided to tell my story. Reading your blog today is reinforcement that I am doing the right thing for myself and others

    Comment by Ashley Erin Almon — March 30, 2011 @ 12:08 pm

  4. Thanks Marc. Your words are very comforting.

    Comment by Jessie Close — March 30, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  5. Hi Marc,
    I have a wonderful outlet to express what it is like to live with BiPolar. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a program called In Our Own Voice. This allows us to go to groups and organizations to speak about our own personal experiences living with mental illnesses of all kinds. If you contact your local chapter you and your readers can join. The response from doing one of these is overwhelming! I get positive feedback all of the time. Thank you for your wonderful blog.

    Comment by Donna Ellis — March 30, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  6. Marc,

    I couldn’t agree with you more as I have suffered from chronic major depression since the late 80s. Initially I couldn’t even tell my family and it took me years to “come out.” In mid 2009 I had Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) after quitting work a couple of months earlier. Since then I have been relatively healthy and have become extremely active with National Alliance of Mental Illness and late last year went on TV to do my bit to reduce stigma.

    Thanks for posting this and the more we talk about it the more people will understand mental illnesses are as real as any other illness and we need to support those that suffer as well as the loved ones who care for them!

    Comment by Peter Cornish — March 30, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  7. Marc,
    Thank you Marc, you gave me quite a lot to think about. Folks who discuss their experiences with mental illness are my heroes. Sometimes I’d rather hide in the shadows, and deny deny rather than face my illness much less educate others. So being honest with others about my bipolar/schizo-affective disorder with a few others will help others. I know of the atrocities that used to be involved in the care and warehousing of those who were: “insane” or “idiots” (archaic derogatory terms) and realize things have come a long way. Only by the efforts of those with these problems and their families were conditions improved. So I need to get out their in the world and fight stigma now but maybe not quite yet shout my diagnosis from the rooftops.

    Comment by Susan S. — March 31, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  8. Marc, Thank you for using your voice and this well-written article. I found my voice and, like you, encourage others to tell their stories.

    We seek stories for our upcoming book, Being Bipolar: Stories from Those Living with the Disorder and Those Who Love Them. Diagnosed in 1978, I needed to read about others’ experiences with bipolar disorder. THIS is the book I wanted – for myself and my loved ones – to help me feel less isolated and afraid. It is through sharing our stories we gain strength and courage.

    To request submission guidelines, send an email to with the subject “Request for Guidelines.” Deadline for stories: April 30.

    Let our voices be heard. We are not alone. There is hope for healing.

    Comment by Rachel Ellen Koski — April 1, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  9. Oh you sound just perfect to join in at my blog. Please consider joining our weekly linky over at called Monday Madness today – It’s in support of bloggers who are involved in mental health/illness. I’d like it to grow steadily, to tackle stigma and enable awareness and support.

    Shah. X

    Comment by — April 4, 2011 @ 4:18 am

  10. Fantastic post – informative and thought-provoking. Many thanks – Shah .X

    Comment by Shah Wharton — April 5, 2011 @ 5:19 am

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