Committed to Change

May 2nd, 2016
The Committed Project

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to a racing heart, tight chest and knotted stomach, and I promptly broke out in a sweat. When I was finally able to fall asleep several hours later, it was fitful and almost as exhausting as being awake.

Two days later, I lay in bed before work with a tight chest and my stomach and head in knots.

Anyone who has experienced anxiety or panic attacks probably recognized these symptoms right away. Even I had a good idea what was going on, though I’ve never really experienced anxiety before (or, more accurately, I’ve never recognized myself as experiencing anxiety – chances are that some of the things I identified as “dread” before or as related to my depression were probably anxiety).

And yet.

Despite having depression and advocating for many years now that that is nothing to be ashamed of, did I call the doctor right away to get help? Nope. Instead, I listened to the little voice in my head that said, “You don’t want to be considered a basket case.” (And yes, I know how offensive that is – but I still used it to put myself down). That’s right – I advocate for other people to treat mental illness as nothing to be ashamed of, and there I was feeling ashamed.

Stigma is a hard thing to stomp out – even in ourselves. For the past two years, I have worked with Sue Caulfield, Carly Masiroff and the Student Affairs Collective to coordinate a month-long blog series about mental illness in student affairs during May, Mental Health Awareness Month. And for a month, it’s kind-of awesome. People come out of the woodwork to share about their mental illness or their family member’s mental illness or their friend’s. They talk about how important it is that we not stigmatize our colleagues and what great work we’re doing with this series.

And then May ends. And everyone crawls back into the woodwork and goes about their jobs and their lives and their hiding and stigmatizing.

I’m sorry, but one month is not enough for me anymore. I want the whole year – the whole lifetime. I want change.

So when it came time to sit down and figure out what we wanted to do for Mental Health Awareness Month this year, Sue, Carly and I decided we wanted to do more. We wanted to reach everyone who works in higher education – not just student affairs professionals. We wanted to provide more than a place for people to share their stories during May – we wanted to make a place they could share their stories anytime. We wanted to spread the work both online and offline. It’s time to take this work to the next level.

Later this week, we will be launching the first part of our plan to make long-term change in the way higher education professionals experience mental illness. We hope you will join with us as The Committed Project moves to a more permanent space. We’re taking it to the next level, and we hope you will, too.