I’m the featured speaker at Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week

For the past month, I’ve been weaning off my anxiety meds—little blue pills that have been my crutch for six years. Meanwhile, University of Arizona called and asked me to fly to Tucson to be their featured speaker at Mental Health Awareness Week. One of the reasons I started taking anxiety pills was due to my fear of being in public. The irony is not lost on me.

So why on Earth did I agree to speak in front of God knows how many complete strangers in the Arizona desert? Honestly, I was pleased as punch with the theme. My contact at the university informed me that they want my speech to be funny, happy, and cheerful. Instead of bemoaning my depression and PTSD, they want me to talk about not just surviving mental illness but thriving despite it.

treeApparently, I’m the poster child for this thriving thing, which is surprising to me as I currently battle drug withdrawal, insomnia, and depression. I don’t feel like I’m thriving right now. I feel like I’m drowning. Despite my head being underwater this week, however, I sort of see what Arizona means.

Despite my social anxiety, I attend book conferences and speak on panels. (People actually consider me charming and funny at these things. I find this shocking.)

Despite my depression, I continue to write and work. I go to the gym and beat up weight machines. I cook dinner for my husband even when my appetite is gone, and I laugh at ridiculous things even when my heart hurts.

Despite my PTSD triggers (never walk up behind me when I’m sitting at my desk), I create. One of my friends recently called me the most prolific writer she’s ever seen—probably because I write to combat my mental illness.

I now have a speech to write. I need to talk about what it feels like to have a mental illness. I need to discuss treatments and techniques to manage. I need to put a positive spin on all the bad stuff, and even though it’s hard to be positive when you’re not sleeping, it’s possible. Anything’s possible.

On March 30, I will stand at the high tide of University of Arizona’s Mental Health Awareness Week, completely terrified to be the center of attention. I will share my story, though, which is something I’ve never been scared of. I’ve always been open about my illnesses, because demystifying a taboo steals its power. I will be funny, I hope. I will be honest. I’ll also be free of anxiety pills for the first time in several years.

Part of thriving is acknowledging our problems. We can’t hide behind mental illness. We can admit to it and move on. As I told a friend recently, “Slay the day.” Even if you’re terribly sad. Even if you’re scared to leave the house (or fly to Tucson, for that matter). Even if you’re just too tired. Don’t just survive … but thrive.

(Photo of me by Bill Thornhill Photography.)