Once upon a time there was this blogger named Jessica who had been very open about her life with Bipolar Disorder. She wrote about it, talked about it, and probably made a few people uncomfortable because stigma is everywhere. She had learned that her mental illness didn’t have to keep her from having a happy, awesomely productive life, and wanted everyone around her to know the same thing… especially people who might be dealing with their own mental illnesses privately. One day, Jessica was scrolling through Facebook and trying to ignore kids screaming for various things, when she saw a post about Panic Disorder by a typically hilarious blogger named Alyson Herzig. I mean, Alyson’s blog name is The Shitastrophy-Need I say more? The woman has humor-writing chops, and has a huge fan base to prove it. Jessica read the piece on Panic Disorder, where Alyson discussed a very embarrassing situation that she had experienced the weekend prior while at a huge writer’s conference. On impulse, Jessica sent Alyson a private message on Facebook just to say that she admired that Alyson had spoken publicly about her mental illness, that she suffered from Bipolar Disorder, and had begun to notice that many other writers suffered from various mental illnesses as well. After agreeing that their brain chemistry had certainly gotten something right by giving them a gift of creativity, they talked about the rampant discrimination born out of mental illness stigma that exists. Alyson and Jessica decided that SOMEONE needed to step up and create a book that would let those suffering all alone that they are not, in fact, alone. Some of the most impressive individuals throughout history lived with a mental illness. These two crazy women decided that the world needed to know that so many popular depictions of mental illness are false, that having a mental illness doesn’t mean a life of only misery. Out of this discussion, the idea for an anthology that came to be known as Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor was developed. After a year filled with accepting submissions, selecting the perfect submissions for the anthology, countless rounds of editing, website creation, logo development, book cover contests, insane publishing software processes and more, the book that could change the world’s perceptions and pre-conceived ideas about mental illness was released on April 7, 2015. To celebrate, these two women on a mission that just happen to be humor writers had a drink (Alyson had a Sierra Nevada, Jessica has Scotch, of course) via FaceTime and said cheers. They did it.
Yesterday a personal dream of mine came true as I watched a book that I co-edited and co-authored was released to the world. This book is one like no other that I have ever encountered, and I can’t even express how deeply I wish a book like this had been around when I received my Bipolar Diagnosis in 2008. I felt so alone, was so incredibly scared of what my life would be like with the mental illness, and most of all, how society would treat me once they knew. My family and friends didn’t know about my diagnosis for nearly a year (except for my amazing husband), and once I did reveal it more publicly, even had a family member (who very likely suffers from Bipolar, as well, but is undiagnosed) make fun of me and call it an “excuse to be weak”. Let me tell you, anyone that you know that suffers from a mental illness is NOT WEAK. Living with a mental illness makes everything more difficult, and the people making it from day to day, living normal lives, are NOT WEAK. They are awesome, but simply have different mental wiring than most. How we, as mental illness sufferers, deal with our symptoms and the care we receive is instrumental in the quality of life that we have, and making someone handle all of this stuff alone because they fear ridicule or discrimination is WRONG. This is why Surviving Mental Illness Through Humor is so incredibly important. It’s a book that provide 36 unique, individual voices speaking about their personal experience, both hilarious and hideously sad, and it not only has the power to help those with mental illnesses feel connected, but it can also help those who are NOT living with a mental illness see the inner-workings of minds unlike their own. SMITH has the power to change the public perception of the mentally ill, and when that happens, people will be less scared of social rejection and seek the supportive help they need.
The acronym of our book, SMITH, ironically conveys the prevalent, common nature of mental illness. Just as the surname Smith is THE most common last name in America, 1 in 4 Americans will experience mental illness personally at some point in their lifetimes. That is ALOT of people hiding in shame, scared to face a world so ready to shun them. By buying this book, you are educating yourselves and those around you about the reality that is mental illness, and helping to change attitudes, one at a time. My kids know that I’m Bipolar… I have explained it as my brain working differently from most people’s, but that doesn’t mean I’m “broken” or defective, just that I have bad days and special needs at times, just as someone with diabetes or another medical condition does. I want for them to respect others who need their compassion, and to model that behavior to their peers. By working together, we can kick mental health discrimination in the teeth, and ‘Laugh Stigma into Submission!’