I stood backstage, my heart racing and my palms sweaty as I glanced over my notes. I was about to tell the majority of my college that I struggle with depression and self-harm. I was scared. I couldn’t believe I was actually about to tell everyone some of my darkest, most shameful secrets. But I knew that this was an important message, so I stuck with it.
My drama group was prepping backstage for its annual performance to the student body of our small liberal arts college. As a member of the leadership team, I had the privilege of introducing one of those dramas. For better or worse, I chose to introduce a drama that dealt with self-harm, knowing that the audience would better connect with the performance if I shared some of my story.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but now that the moment was approaching I wasn’t so sure. I did some math and realized that between both performances I would be speaking to about 2,000 people. Two thousand. Out of 2,400. That’s more than 80% of the student body. Yikes.
My thoughts swirled, envisioning people’s reactions. What if people think I’m weak? People might never look at me the same again. What if they judge me? People might think I’m crazy. Would it be better if people hated me or if they didn’t care at all? Why the hell am I doing this?!
I stood at the lectern and took a deep breath. I was thankful the spotlights and dark auditorium meant I couldn’t see that the audience had become standing room only. My hands were shaking, but my voice was strong.
And I did it.
I told everyone how much I relate to this drama. I shared some of my story about dealing with depression in college. I was scared, but I even shared about my struggle with an addiction to self-harm.
The audience was silent. You probably could have heard a pin drop. I wasn’t even sure if anyone was breathing. But I looked them in the eye and didn’t back away from what I had said, because that wasn’t the end of my story.
“There is hope,” I shared. “I’ve recovered from self-harm and so can you. There is grace and forgiveness no matter how many times we hurt ourselves or get depressed. Our story doesn’t have to end in darkness, because we don’t have to be perfect. There are no perfect people.” With that, I walked offstage and sat down while my friends performed.
My entire body started shaking. What would the rest of this day and coming weeks look like? I thought people would call me crazy, label me, or pity me. Unfortunately, there was only one way to find out…wait and see.
It started relatively quickly. As I went about my day both friends and strangers would come up to me. “Oh no,” I always thought. But to my surprise they said, “I appreciated what you said. That took a lot of courage.” Or, “Thanks for sharing what you did today. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.”
Later I started getting private emails. Sometimes they were people rejoicing in their own recovery, but sometimes they were struggling. “I heard your talk the other day. I’m really struggling right now. Do you have any advice?”
But the most thought-provoking responses came from the few people who sent anonymous notes to my mailbox. These were a little more serious.
“I’m dealing with the same thing and it was so encouraging to hear that I’m not alone.”
“Thank you for your creative and thought-provoking presentation. The focus on the fact that none of us is perfect was very appropriate.”
“I shared a similar story recently and it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Being someone with that past is not easy…because it is not understood or talked about. I really appreciated you stepping forward and sharing your story.”
These reactions were incredible! I had feared people would judge me, but instead they rallied to show their appreciation and support. I thought people would look down on me for my problems, but instead they began to share their own struggles.
After a few days the responses died down, I put my speaking notes away, and life went on as before. But one thing changed: my perspective.
I realized that while being vulnerable was scary, it is that same vulnerability that holds the power of connection. As we take down our walls, we find hope and come together with others dealing with the same issues we do. When we step out of the darkness and into vulnerability we find that other people don’t look at us in judgment, but instead whisper, “Me too”. Through those “me too” moments we start to heal as we lean on each other.
When I shared my darkest struggles with 2,000 people, I discovered something of great importance: not one of us is alone in the darkness.