May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. People living with mental illness confront their condition on a daily basis, and one month of building awareness does not do full justice to the issues and challenges they face. Kelly Showard, suicide survivor and mental health activist, sat down with us to discuss mental health well-being.
Q: Tell us a little about your own experience with mental illness.
It started when I was a kid- I'm not sure exactly when. I was molested by my dad- so it may be a reaction to that experience. Outside of being kind and caring, it's tough for me. I see people at their most basic form. I have deep feelings. I really do. I can be completely crushed on the inside and not only completely calm and collected but also smiling. You can be hurting and still genuinely smiling and caring for others at the same time.
I was diagnosed with depression postpartum, but it probably started before. In 2013 I had a series of events: I attempted suicide, my marriage ended, and I lost my job. All in the span of 3 months. But everything that happened was more and more freeing... which seems backwards. And I realized that it's ok to leave your job. It's ok to leave your marriage. Be the light.
Q: Kelly was recently showcased in the Buffalo News ReFresh for her work with the Front Seat Chronicles. What made you make the decision to speak out on mental health and start Front Seat Chronicles?
I would sit in my car before work, not wanting to go into the office. I would just start taking selfies. I started posting them on Facebook with a positive message. At first, I felt so self-absorbed posting these pictures, so I needed to find more people who were going through a similar thing, and I thought; this has to have a name... Front Seat Chronicles. They are memes, pieces of light, with messages like "Just be yourself" or "Be the light."
[Front Seat Chronicles] isn't just about suicide- that's my story. It started with selfies on my Facebook page, and now I have a website for other people to share their stories and help others understand they are not alone. A local radio personality, has shared on Front Seat Chronicles. She is a young woman still defining her career, and took a leap of faith when sharing her story.
Everyone has their own backstory and it isn't necessarily tragic. It's important to know that everyone has something that affects them and you need to be aware of that.
Q: Why do you think it is so important to have open dialogue about mental health?
People tend to walk around the issues. We can't break down the stigma until we can actually say the words. Don’t sugarcoat the words. Suicide. Just say it! There is also this need to label people as being depressed or bipolar, as if that defines the person. People don't walk around saying 'I'm diabetes,' so why should they say 'I'm bipolar'?
If I have a bad day or I don’t want to go out—then it’s assumed that I must be depressed, as if depression is a constant state. Being able to talk about it helps break down those barriers to understand what other people are going through.
Q: Do you think society is changing the way we think about mental health? What would you change?
Deciding to commit suicide was the hardest decision I ever made. If there was one thing I could change about people's perception of mental health it would be that people are not weak. Even the strongest person may be going through something.
Q: How do you handle your family when it comes to your mental health?
When it comes to my kids I've been very open with them. I hope my openness and candor has been positive for them.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who may be dealing with a mental illness?
There are more people than you think that aren't crazy out there. You just need to acknowledge that. You are not alone. And always be kind. You never know when a compliment or a text can change someone's life.
It's working. It's being a woman. It's being depressed. It's anxiety. It's postpartum. It's life. It's real.