From the Diary of an Unfit Mind

From the Diary of an Unfit Mind
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NAMI Walks NJ 2018

April 4, 2018

I wanted to take a moment and thank NAMI New Jersey for inviting me to be the Celebrity Chair of this year's NAMI Walks NJ 2018 on May 19th. I also really wanted to thank them for thinking that I'm a celebrity. My mom is going to be so psyched about that. 

    I am honored, not only, to join them in this fight to raise awareness of mental health issues, but to be doing so in my home state of New Jersey. So much of my own mental health journey has occurred within the state. And I dedicated a lot of my book to exploring that journey- from the onset of my symptoms occurring within the confining walls of a dirty Jersey motel room, to my lowest, darkest point occurring inside of a Jersey hospital, to one of the happiest moments of my life-finally getting a diagnosis- all of it happened in the Garden State.

    So to think that I might be able to reach another young Jersey girl out there, who might be scared of the changes her mind is going through, who might be confused about where to turn for help. To think that by coming home, I might be one step closer to reaching someone who is as lost as I once was- as a survivor- that is the most important work I can do.

    New Jersey made me tough enough and strong enough to navigate my own Bipolar Disorder diagnosis and so I will always feel indebted to the state. I want to look after it. I want its people to be able to get the help they need when they need it. I want New Jersey to be progressive and forward thinking. To view mental health issues as a fundamental part of overall healthcare, as a life saving subject to teach our children in schools, as a topic worth our time, money, and attention.

    But most of all, I want New Jersey to continue to represent what it means to be an unafraid badass. I have always been proud of New Jersey's reputation for being loud, and brazen, and bold- and we need to reinforce that attitude when it comes to approaching the topic of mental health. Because right now the greatest enemy of mental health issues is the stigma suppressing the conversation. And if there's one thing I know New Jersey is not- it's quiet. So let's make sure we stay loud, let's make sure we speak up on a topic that silences so many.

    It is dangerously easy to become uncomfortable at the mere mention of mental illness- especially for those who have never been personally affected by it. Because it is a common inclination to fear what we do not understand. But with 1 in 5 adults in the United States being affected by a mental illness, odds are you will either encounter it or experience it. If it is not you who is struggling, it could be someone you know- it could be someone you love. But the stigma surrounding the topic has made starting the conversation intimidating. So why is that?

    Well most of the time, when we as a society discuss mental health, it is only after a shocking event. Gossip and entertainment websites can turn a celebrity's struggle into salacious, insensitive click bait. In our current celebrity and social media obsessed world, gossip becomes more weighted. So what about respected and legitimate media outlets? Often we only see mental health in our news feed after a violent tragedy. 

    So where does that leave us? Where does that leave the employee who wants to ask for a mental health day? Where does that leave the friend who wants to explain her low energy? Where does that leave the teacher concerned about a student's erratic behavior? Where does that leave the child who so desperately wants to ask for help but is too afraid to be judged or mocked? With social feeds crowded with sensationalized headlines, when we only acknowledge mental health at its most tragic, we are all left either afraid or ashamed.

    We must be honest and transparent as to the dangers of ignoring or mistreating mental illness. That must be explicit. But we also have a human responsibility not to vilify mental illness, not to place all of the blame squarely on its shoulders. Because doing so could result in shaming people away from reaching out for treatment and help. We must have fair, well-rounded and objective conversations about these topics.

    Personally, I'm not going to sit around and wait for society to look deeper than a shocking headline or for people on social media to read an entire article before they comment on it. So what will I do?

    Every time my voice goes above a socially acceptable volume in public, my friends say "hey, your New Jersey is showing." So that's exactly what I'm going to keep on doing. I'm going to let my Jersey out, full force. I am going to remain loud and unapologetic. I'm going to try my hardest to populate Google search results with positive stories about people not only living, but thriving, with mental illness. I am going to write more books about the gifts my bipolar disorder has given me. I am going to bring up therapy and treatment in every damn interview. I will walk alongside amazing organizations like NAMI New Jersey, both figuratively and literally on May 19th.

    I am going to fight hard to represent what an average person living with a mental illness looks like, sounds like, and acts like. I am going to do my part every day to shatter the stigma and start the conversation. And I'm going to keep that conversation going until someone tells me to shut up… and then I'm just gonna get louder. Which is another quality I can attribute to growing up in New Jersey. 

    I spent so many years of my life afraid to approach the topic of my mental health. I was uneducated. I was intimidated. I was ashamed. And because I could not speak up, all I felt was alone. I had no idea that by writing a painfully honest memoir, by sharing my most guarded secrets about my diagnosis and struggles, I would finally feel connected to people. I want to share that feeling. I want to help those struggling know that they are not alone.

    That is what I am going to do. What will you do? Will you join me in that fight? Please walk alongside me on May 19th. Bring a friend. Open their mind. And every day before and after, find someone who might be curious or afraid and answer their questions. Help people educate themselves. Find someone who may need help but who has not yet found the strength to ask for it. Be a voice for the voiceless. Simply leading by example could save a life. And that is the most important work we can do together. Thank you.

AJ Signature