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Where I Stand

By Erin Casey--I often tell people that I became a mental health advocate by accident, but that’s not exactly true. What I mean when I say this is that I didn’t plan for the twists and turns I've experienced.

I realize now that because of them I am the person I am today, a person who consciously advocates for reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

I began suffering from an eating disorder at a young age. I grew up in a family system that emphasized looks and weight while disordered eating habits were rampant. It was my normal. For the longest time, I didn’t even know that this distorted relationship my family engaged in with our bodies and food was disordered or unhealthy at all. For generations, no one has talked about it. Both unfortunately (and thankfully) I developed some additional mental health concerns, which raised enough red flags for people to begin to notice that I needed professional help.

In college, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This combination of a mood disorder and eating disorder caused so much crisis in my life. It seemed like overnight I stopped being a student and became a full-time patient. Everyone was asking: What happened to Erin?

My family and I began to navigate the foreign world of mental health care, insurance nightmares, treatment facilities and programs. We were all lost and confused finding ourselves with more questions than answers while also silenced by shame and embarrassment. However, as part of my treatment I was placed in groups with others that were also struggling with managing mental illnesses. It was here, in these groups that I learned a few things that changed my life.

The first was that I wasn’t alone, and in fact not only was I not alone but in reality everyone is affected by mental illness to some degree. The second thing I learned was that there was absolutely nothing shameful about mental illness, addiction or suffering. Even more so, I found some of the other patients in these programs with me to be the strongest and most inspiring people that I had ever met. I learned there that everyone had a story, and I saw and experienced incredible healing as we told each other our stories in groups and between therapy sessions.

These two lessons changed my shame to empowerment and inspired my life’s personal mission: to live in ways that give others permission to suffer out loud rather than feeling forced to hide it away in secret. I truly believe that the cultural suppression of mental illness, and our need to buy into the grand narrative of solution and control silences the beautiful and healing force of communal suffering. So I began to rebel against it.

At first it was just with my friends. I’ll never forget passing out a pamphlet on bipolar disorder to the girls in my Bible study nor will I forget posting a sign above the communal bathroom toilet that reminded me not to purge. Those were some of the very first ways I lived my suffering publically, and oh, what a difference it made for me.

It seemed like soon after I had groups of people cheering me on in my recovery goals, and sharing with me things they were working on in their lives.

After several thoughtful conversations with roommates and friends, I realized that these conversations all went the same way. I would share what I’ve been going through and the follow up would always include a personal disclosure about their mental health or someone close to them. I watched these conversations relieve tensions and become affirming, and I realized that I needed to share with more people.

I started a personal blog in 2011 that since then has turned into a community of several thousand people. I call it “Where I Stand.” Our mission is to work for the prevention of intervention of mental illness through awareness, education and research. Where I Stand started as an event in 2012 and has transformed into many things including online support and accountability groups, mentorship, a group of bloggers and advocates, public speaking and running online awareness campaigns.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t feel shocked, humbled and inspired by what it has become. But then I am reminded of the simple truth behind it: everyone has a story to tell and people desperately want safe spaces to share them. That is what Where I Stand is all about.

About this blogger: Erin Casey founded Where I Stand in 2012. She received her BA from James Madison University in Political Science in 2013. Following her undergraduate work she spent a year working as an activities counselor at a therapeutic residential home for teenage boys. Erin is currently working on her Masters degree in Communication and Advocacy at James Madison University and serves on the Cultural and Linguistic Competency Committee for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health. Check out Where I Stand at www.thisiswhereistand.org, or email Erin at erin@thisiswhereistand.com.

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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