Meaningful connection through storytelling positively impacts mental well-being. Now more than ever, we have reason to create meaningful connections to help heal mental health struggles. Where systemic challenges and failures exist, we can instead, through storytelling, cultivate relationships, resonance, and understanding. As we find outlets to express the pain of these experiences, we permit entry into a collective healing process.
Unfortunately, mental health conditions are often unseen and unrecognized, making them painfully isolating and potentially devastating for those experiencing them and their loved ones. For years, stigma has prevented people from receiving the help and care needed for their mental health. There just wasn’t language for it. There certainly wasn’t an open conversation addressing the debilitating effects of mental anguish, anxiety, depression or suicide. Much is still shrouded in shame and secrecy, but physical isolation revealed our vulnerabilities during the global pandemic, making us far more susceptible to illness, shifting the conversation considerably.
So how does storytelling help?
Storytelling sheds light on areas of mental illness not yet understood. Every journey is unique to the individual, and every shared story further demystifies the torment. By creating purposeful spaces for sharing, the storyteller and the witnesses embark on a journey together. This reciprocal relationship allows for resonance and understanding, supporting the performer and healing with the power of connection.
In 2001, I spent time in a psychiatric ward. I suffered severe acute depression in my mid-teens and later paralyzing anxiety, going years without help, thinking something was wrong with me.
Joy eluded me for nearly twenty years, and severe acute depression stole countless moments with my husband, children and family. I always slept, worried about everything, and could not access my feelings. A thin film of separation coated every encounter. I rarely cried. Life felt like something other people took part in. I could hardly look at my children without feeling immense guilt and a sense of failure. I was in a pit of shame. I believed myself unworthy.
While possibly reckless, I made two terrifying decisions with seemingly drastic measures in hopes of a better life. Eight years ago, I quit my medication* cold-turkey, got in my beat-up green honda civic and headed off to attend a week-long program aimed at personal growth and healing. It took me a while to integrate the learnings and even longer to better my communication skills. Still, I will never forget what it felt like to witness others tell their healing journey while simultaneously sharing my own without regret or concern for judgment. Finally, two years later, I left my secure corporate career with no long-term plans.
It took a surprisingly long time to rid my system of medication’s numbing effects and reemerge without an identity as a career professional. Still, I began to notice little hints of forgotten dreams resurfacing. Then, finally, I recalled the cloud-filled summer skies of my childhood in Aotearoa, New Zealand. I remembered my 10yr old self who yearned to change the world by sharing her heart.
Then in 2017, I sat parked at the beach crying in my car while listening to a radio show about mental health. The radio host shared a personal account of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Hearing the details of his story shifted something deep inside me, and I soon realized the call to share my story. I began writing a one-person show about my experiences with depression, anxiety, and time in a psychiatric hospital ward. This idea gave me a newfound purpose, so I booked a local theatre with a date six months out, without a single scene written and with no idea what I would do on stage. I hoped something in me would be enough to make it work. I imagined my family and friends in the audience, how they might understand me and what it felt like to exist in my world. Not for pity but for grace. I meditated an hour every night for two weeks straight, constructing a play that hopefully inspires audiences. I scripted and storyboarded, but nothing worked. I wanted to enter the darkness and extract the meaning of my pain. And that’s when it hit me; I couldn’t do this alone.
So I wrote a letter thanking the radio host, then gathered a group of people to fill the spaces I could not. The presenters were shockingly easy to locate. Everyone had stories, each of them precious. Their beauty and daring upstaged my fears, and their artistry and musicality endeared them to the audience. One could hear a pin drop that night. While this process asked everything of me, I made life-long connections and participated in deeply meaningful collaboration. I shared my story. The energy in the theatre that night was magic.
Empathy, compassion, and love are ways to support one another when we witness these moving stories. Likewise, we can glean from tales of overcoming when we gather together in our imperfections, regarding each other as whole beings deserving of well-being. When suffering no longer resides solely inside the mind, fresh insight and new perspectives are possible. We can show support by observing with curiosity and offering gratitude for that sharing. Human connection makes possible the idea that we are each other. We can help one another by listening, by our presence and attention.
After that night, I continued hosting mental health storytelling events and have done so for five years now. I am thankful for storytelling’s profound language to express myself. I am grateful for the insight of meaningful connection to remedy my isolation and clear a path for healing. The relationships made over the past five years inspire and uplift me. Today, I am free of depression. I shared my story, and it changed my entire life.
*The decision to stop my medication was entirely my own doing and was not recommended (or known about) by my physician. Please take good care and seek advice when managing medication supervised by your doctor or health practitioner.
2 thoughts on “Storytelling – A Healing Connection”
Thank you for your open loving heart❤️ you are a miracle
This is fabulous, necessary, courageous, interesting…I’m not sure exactly what word fits right but I know it is important and I love you and have lived with you through your metamorphosis and it has been all that you say for you and for everyone you touch.