The Healing Power of Sharing Your Story

Help the light get in.

Posted Feb 21, 2020

Pexels
Source: Pexels

I went to Stanford. Well, ok… not in the traditional way. I didn’t go there for university. But I did go there to see The Manic Monolgues, a storytelling project I assisted with. 

True stories may be the most powerful stories there are. When I perform my theatrical keynotes about my lived experience with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and psychosis, I see the immediate positive effect on the audience. I personally feel the benefit of sharing as well.

If you’ve been touched by mental illness and are considering writing about it, please do. It doesn’t matter if you share your story publicly or not, but it’s amazing the hope and freedom it can bring just by writing it. 

I’d heard of Stanford. I knew that it was an impressive university to go to and that it has some of the brightest minds studying there. 

In the winter of 2018 and the spring of 2019, I had the pleasure of working with several of those bright minds. I’d add to that bright hearts, too. 

Zack Burton and Elisa Hofmeister, Stanford students, created The Manic Monologues by bringing together actors and non-actors, writers and non-writers, all to create an evening of storytelling. An evening dedicated to sharing experiences of mental illness, both of recovery and adversity. 

In May 2017, Zack had his first psychotic break and, following, a bipolar diagnosis. During those first few frightening months, Elisa and Zack failed to find relatable, hopeful stories from those who had been through a similar struggle. They decided to create The Manic Monologues to humanize and normalize mental illness.

I was involved as an advisor to help gather stories and offer some guidance to those writing pieces. I also had an excerpt of one of my plays performed by a local acting student.

I flew to Palo Alto. There, I spoke on a mental health panel at the university and attended the production's three-night run. Each night was raw, moving, and funny. 

Standing ovations followed each performance. 

“We received feedback from those brave individuals who shared their stories with us,” Zack explained, “that writing down their experience was extremely cathartic, in some ways liberating.” Zack goes on to say that “one of the storytellers, who was able to attend the performance, came up to us after the show. They shared that providing their story for The Manic Monologues allowed them to open up with a family member who they had not spoken with about their mental illness in many years.” 

In chatting with the actors, I learned that some who had not been touched by mental illness learned and grew, both in compassion and understanding. Those who had lived experience felt empowered. “The audience,” Elisa commented, “was deeply moved by the performance. Laughter and tears filled the evening.”

Five of the 18 monologues were written by students in the course I led, “Truth be Told: Storytelling for people living with mental illness and their communities,” in 2018. That program ended in a community storytelling evening as well. It, too, was incredibly healing for both those in the audience and on stage. 

It was so wonderful to see these beautiful Truth be Told pieces shared again by a new person and to a new audience. 

Shout out to the White Rock/SS – Mental Health Substance Use Services team and especially to Leah Kasinsky, my co-facilitator for the wonderful support they offered.

I witnessed again the power of creativity and storytelling in the free "Catalyst for Creativity and Courage: Intro to Telling Your Stories" webinar. Attendees learned strategies to kickstart their creative juices and their bravery. They received tools to help write their personal stories. I was moved to hear and see how freeing it was for people.

Writing your stories and giving voice to your experiences can be particularly liberating. Whether you share them with a public audience, a close friend, or leave them for yourself to enjoy, the written word has the power to heal.

The more we shed light on those hidden items—what we may feel are taboo—the more we can free ourselves. As the elegant lyric from the Leonard Cohen’s song, "Anthem" reads: 

“The is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Help the light get in. Start by sharing a tiny part of your story. 

© Victoria Maxwell