Life is a series of stories. It’s like a WHOLE bunch of little novelettes which, when compiled, create a masterpiece novel. Everyone of us has a masterpiece novel living inside of us – some of us can actually read our novels – a few can even read them out loud.

Our stories really are important. Sharing our stories with others is, in my opinion, an integral part of the fabric of our lives – and in the lives of our communities.

The power of a story is in any person’s ability to identify with the subject and then act upon what they learn by virtue of that “relationship” with the author or character. That is true for ANY story – written or oral – fact or fiction – the POWER lies in the connection that is built between the storyteller and the reader or audience.

For the purpose of this blog post, I want to talk about stories of mental illness. People are afraid to share their battles as patients, or as caregivers, for many reasons. All too many of those reasons are valid in this zeitgeist of stigma and shame associated, still, with mental illness in the world.

But finding the courage to share our stories is, to my mind, almost a moral imperative. I would not be IN a position to share my story were it not for some brave soul who came before me who was willing to share theirs.  And I do not make that statement lightly.  I would not be in a position to share because I would, very probably, be dead. The rates of suicide among the mentally ill, particularly bipolar patients, are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than the average population. Reading about someone else’s battle, knowing that I wasn’t alone, kept my hands away from many pill bottles, liquor bottles and drug dealers in my lifetime. I knew how quickly I could self-destruct – and I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.

Fortunately, for every few who ARE afraid to talk, there is one who is NOT. (There’s one in every crowd and it’s usually me >grin<)

I am not afraid. Well, more accurately, I am not so afraid as to be silenced.

Yesterday and today, the reason I tell my story so freely – and the power a personal testimony can offer – became startlingly clear.

Out of the blue yesterday, I received an e-mail from a friend. She shared that a close family member had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder several years ago. This family member has experienced some changes in his life and, from all appearances, is cycling to full-blown mania – complete with veiled suicide “threats”.

She is a caregiver, of sorts, for this young person. Because she had heard me speak unabashedly about my illness some time beforehand, she felt that I would be approachable to ask for insight. I hope I helped.

I don’t know what the outcome will be. I hope their family is not going to have to deal with a suicide. I hope that I was able to give her a little hope that she is doing all she can do to protect this beloved person.

She’s asked if I will talk to him/her. Of course I will. The limiting factor in that equation, of course, is the desire for the individual to talk with me. I don’t know what will happen.

What I do know, without too much drama or exaggeration, is that someone else is getting a better shot at living a long, relatively happy, life because I chose to share my pain and struggle openly. Perhaps now, I’ll get the opportunity to share the joy and peace which can come when we face our diagnosis, seek treatment and COMPLY with our prescriptions, whatever form they take.

We will NEVER lead “normal”, drama-free lives. The truth is, we don’t want to. But we CAN live. We CAN be productive members of our families and communities. We almost certainly CANNOT do those things without help.

If you’ve got a story to tell – I encourage you to tell it. It’s catharsis in its purest form for you and could very well be a lifeline to someone else.