The vast majority of people I interview are people I have never met before. I come across them in seemingly random encounters (though I do not believe anything in life is truly random). When they choose to open up to me, I believe deeply that each story shared is significant, unique…sacred. That each person who decides to communicate their experiences – not just with me, but with all of us – is revealing a part of their very essence.
Two such people come to mind (their stories here and here). I interviewed both in the past few weeks. I met each in different towns, at different times of the day, each with a different story. I had never met either before. Yet both of them grew up battling mental illness, both of them had seen victory, and both of them had chosen to be vulnerable and open up about their experiences, hoping to inspire others who also battle mental illness.
How incredibly beautiful and selfless and courageous of these two women to bear their very souls for the good of others.
I decided to do something I rarely do: I followed up with one of the one subjects I had just talked about. I wanted to know, what was it like knowing that something she never shared with anyone before, was going to go public along with her picture?
She agreed to talk about it, and this is now in her own words…
“It is hard to show people the ugliness of your flaws. It is hard enough to admit you have a problem, but is so much harder to shine a light on it for the world to see. Because mental illness, though a lot of people may have experience with it, is rarely discussed.
“It was very overwhelming to share it. I never really disclosed to people my eating disorder or my depression, to anybody. But I realized I can’t care what anybody thinks. God knew who I was, he knew what I went through. He is the only one I care about what he thinks. So I shared it.
“You wonder, ‘Am I going to be judged, am I going to be looked down upon? Is anyone going to point their finger at me and say, “Now we know your secrets.”’ But that wasn’t the response I got at all. I got a lot of hugs, and a lot of ‘Thank you for sharing your story, because I too went through something similar.’ And it was like a weight was lifted off of me. It was so freeing.
“That’s why people need to get their story out. Because chances are, somebody in your inner-circle may be going through the same thing. And if not them, definitely there is someone out there who will see the story who will need to hear it. Because people are going to think, ‘No one can relate to me.’ Hearing how sharing my story brought healing to other people, helped bring healing to my own story.”
I am so incredibly thankful for every story shared on Portraits of the Jersey Shore. Sharing one’s story can bring inspiration, hope and healing to the ones reading it. But I will go further: it is in the process of sharing our stories with each other that we become more aware that we are all on this journey called life together. Because I truly believe that it is the journey of our experiences, both good and bad, profound and mundane, that makes us essentially human. And it is crucial in this moment of our history, where there is so much division and conflict, that we remember to listen to one other. For it is in our stories that we can see that we each have the dignity of being human, and, dare I say, of being sacred image-bearers of our very Creator. So please, choose to share your story. Someone out there needs to hear it.
Special Note: I have several speaking engagements coming up. The theme is “Choosing Compassion in a World of Cynicism.” I will share how in a culture that seems more cynical than ever, I discovered compassion through listening to the stories of complete strangers. I am convinced that every person can choose compassion, and by doing so, make a difference in the lives of others.
Berkeley Library, Monday, October 15th, 7pm
Toms River Library, Thursday, November 8th, 7pm
Ocean Township Library, Thursday, December 6th, 7pm
I would love to see you there!
~ Gregory Andrus