I have social anxiety and though it’s actually improving now since I’ve started therapy, I’ve also noticed a thing where you can put me on a stage with a topic and I can talk people’s ears off while still making enough sense.
I think it has something to do with the fact that I had been exposed to public speaking since I was in middle school. I was forced into it and was never good at saying no so I was trained to do public speaking and was always able to bluff my way through my speeches despite not being able to remember what I’m supposed to say. I was later trained to be a debater and won many “Best debater” awards thence. Even in my first round of college, I was forced into the debate team for a year or so before I mustered up enough courage to quit.
In any case, since middle school, I’ve just been good at speaking in public despite my somewhat debilitating social anxiety. I was always able to bluff and pardon-my-language bullshit my way through things. That’s why I ended up being a teacher and loved every moment of it. I had a chance to just talk and people had to listen.
Tonight, I was invited to a casual event on campus called the “coffee house” where other students are also invited to perform or speak as well. Tonight’s theme was “mental health awareness” in lieu of mental health awareness week. I was nervous about my speech because I’ve never spoken about mental health in front of strangers.
I was second to take the stage after an amazing acoustic guitarist. I have to admit, I didn’t prepare for my speech at all. I shouldn’t have mentioned it in my introduction but I’m always self deprecating to lighten the mood and prepare myself. Once I got into it though, the words flowed.
I quoted Glenn Close who had said that “it’s an odd paradox that our society which can now speak about many topics are still unable to speak about mental health” and said that mental health matters to us because 1 of 5 adults experience mental illness but 5 of 5 have mental health. I likened mental health to physical health and pointed out the fact that people so readily accept others’ physical illnesses but aren’t so ready to accept one’s mental illnesses. I spoke a little about my experience and what I was diagnosed with. I spoke of my amazing husband and his support while validating him publicly for the first time in our relationship. I told the crowd that it took me 7 years to realize that the best friend that I’ve been searching for my whole life have been there all along for me.
I also explained to the crowd that everyone thinks I look normal and fine but really, I struggle with my own version of depression – the irritation and anger, the feeling of being “hangry” all the time but no amount of food can change how I feel, the hopelessness and helplessness I feel all the time. I talked a little about the stigma and why I feel compelled to speak out about mental health. I told the people who were listening that I am now trying to get involved more on campus to raise awareness.
I also addressed anyone else in the crowd that could be facing mental illnesses that someone cares. It could just be one person but someone cares for them so they shouldn’t give up. That even if they only have one person who cares that they’re extremely lucky to have that person.
I then addressed the resources we have on campus that are invaluable and have helped me tremendously. I urged those who feel the need to seek help. I told them that if they’re afraid to speak to someone face-to-face that they can visit the website. I then thanked the student committee that made the night possible, thanked the crowd for attending and for caring about mental health enough to attend and thanked everyone for their time. I then said to end, that people shouldn’t feel alone and that it’s ok to not feel ok.
Overall, I felt like I was rambling. I felt like I was unfocused because my medication had worn off by then. I didn’t think I did a great job.
The applause was loud but I barely heard it as I walked back to my seat. It felt almost surreal. I couldn’t believe that I had addressed about 40 or so people tonight. I gave an important speech on an important topic but I hadn’t prepared for it. It was pretty dim so I couldn’t tell what people were thinking or what their expressions were like. It is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it didn’t throw me off my flow. Curse because now I’m left wondering if it was an effective speech.
When I got back to my seat, a classmate of mine who had turned up to support me – God bless her, we haven’t had much interaction except in class but she cared about me enough to come see me speak and support me – said to me, “That was unprepared??? Sure sounds really prepared to me!”. My husband who had also attended also said that I had the crowd enraptured, that everyone was very focused on what I had to say. He said that no one looked away at all through the entire speech.
I’m glad. As self deprecating as I am, I’m actually very happy to hear that people were listening. Even if I had reached one person, that’s good enough for me.
A few minutes after my speech ended, someone was reached. A girl came up to me, thanked me for my speech and asked me what she can do for her boyfriend who has ADHD and how she can support him the way my husband had supported me. I gave her some pointers about communication and told her how to clearly communicate to someone who has ADHD like me. I told her to forgive him for his lack of focus and messes around the home because he really isn’t doing it to make her mad. I also told her that despite that, it doesn’t mean that her feelings don’t matter. That both of them need to work together to have a harmonious relationship. I hope that what I had shared with her will help her.
I’m glad I shared my story. It wasn’t very specific though I did mention at one point that I was close to an attempt at suicide but it was specific enough to be relatable (at least I hope it was). In the future, should I be given another chance to speak, I’ll make sure to prepare better and to include more personalized information.
For now though, I’m just thankful for the people I reached. I’m thankful for the opportunity to speak and I’m thankful for this newfound passion of mine to raise awareness about mental health. I’m also thankful that I have found a new friend in my classmate. She used to be someone I just sat next to in Trig but after a 3-hour profound conversation with her tonight, I can see her being more than just another classmate.
Tonight has definitely been a night of small victories. Victories that in light of these past 6 weeks have been victories I desperately needed.