I’ve read a few articles lately who joke that Facebook, Pinterest, and basically all of social media exists for the demonstrative purpose of living an ideal, a pretend world if you will, where people post picturesque, happy photos and status updates to pretend that their lives are perfect. Meanwhile, many struggle with a multitude of life struggles ranging from serious to more mundane. I think the articles rang true, but at the same time I do enjoy the pictures and sugarcoated life experiences and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I feel jealous or resentful of these pretty packaged postings. I am sure that I too am guilty of posting pictures that might portray a family vacation as being awesome. The pictures don’t capture the tantrums, the fights, the picky eaters, the sunburn, etc. Pictures capture smiles and delight. That’s reality. It’s fine. It’s even fun. I am not attempting to take this experience away from the world. I just, at times, would like to keep it a bit more real. To maintain a bit of common ground, to create a place where real is normal and flaws are acceptable.

Therefore, I did something a little out of the ordinary last Monday. I posted a TMI Facebook status (That stands for “too much information” for you older folks). I had an idea and decided to do it before a little voice in my head told me not to. So I wrote it up quickly, didn’t think too much about it, and pressed enter. Do I regret it? Well, the answer is Yes and No. Yes, because I feel a little ashamed that I did not get as many ‘likes’ as I would’ve liked to, and because some people who are close to me have made no comments of support, and I’ve even gotten some negative remarks against what I did. Yes, because I bared my deepest secret to 413 people, granted many of whom don’t check Facebook, and if they do, don’t read everything. But if they did, didn’t comment or like my post. As a side comment, I’d like to say to all you secret Facebookers, you can stay secret but we know you’re out there!

The truth is, I have been thinking about doing this for a while, but wasn’t sure which medium to use. I’ve toyed back and forth between the blogs, articles, and my book that I am working on. I’ve written up various pieces, but never had the courage to post them or send them out.

I took a plunge to share about a struggle that I have with mental illness, which in itself is a big deal to even share to people close to you. So why would I share something like that with many people I don’t even talk to on a day to day or even year to year basis? It’s like this. I have a dream. I have a dream to break down the stigma of mental illness. I took one small step towards my dream yesterday. And it has given me the push to keep going. It has given me the push to continue with my newly found organization Chance to Heal which raises money to help people pay for therapy and provides support groups for those suffering in silence. It has given me the push to try to help as many people as I can, including myself.

I believe that the challenges presented to me in my life by G-d were for a purpose, and one of those is to help others who are also struggling. Mental illness has become the elephant in the room. It’s real, and everyone knows someone who’s suffering. But no one wants to talk about it. It makes us feel uncomfortable. The word mental illness in our mind is associated with crazy, ranting and raving lunatics. It’s hard for me to even say the two words. Mental illness. Mental illness. Mental illness. Hard to read it, right? What about Mental Health? That’s better. I am striving to build bridges, to open up communication lines between those who suffer and those who don’t.

Here is my status from last Monday:

“I just thought of an idea. Facebook friends, get ready…

….I’d like to start a feed here that shares our struggles that we have been through or are currently going through. And, a very important addition would be, to share how you are working on overcoming that struggle. It can be anything from a broken bone to ADD, from Diabetes to an issue with one of your children. It can be struggling with being single, or having a problem in your marriage, a painful divorce or infertility. The reality is that we ALL struggle. We all have tests and problems that were presented to us in our lives to make us grow (I believe). The point is that we are supposed to work through them and come out even stronger! That is what true happiness is about.

Today is a day when we Jews celebrate the beginning of the month of Adar, and a time when we increase happiness. What does this mean? Dressing up and being silly? Yes, that is part of it, because it brings smiles to our faces and sends good feelings running through our bodies. But, let’s go deeper than that. Let’s look at what true happiness is. In my opinion, happiness is individually defined by each person in this world. We all have our goals and desires, our wishes and dreams that we wish to be fulfilled. It may be getting a lot of money for one person or overcoming a mood disorder for another. The point is, it’s individual and it only comes about through working hard and keeping our heads up with positive reinforcement and lots of faith. I am going to jump into the waters and start. So here we go. I will be the first person to post. If you would like to share a struggle and a step you are taking to overcome it, please follow. If I am the only one, then so be it. But, I am taking this chance, because that’s what life is about. Taking chances and hoping for the best.

I struggle with an illness called Bipolar Type 2. It’s a mental illness consisting of depressive and hypo manic episodes and requires me to take medication for mood stability. I have been struggling with mood issues since age 15, and was only diagnosed two years ago with Bipolar 2. After having severe Postpartum Depression after my last birth, I have been working on getting stable again. I take medication, try to exercise, and TRY to eat healthy. I started an organization called Chance to Heal that will help people with funds for therapy or anything else involved with recovering from mental illness. I initiated a Depression support group in my community with a friend of mine who facilitates it. I have a child with Encopresis but am now taking him/her to a psychologist to deal with the issue. I also have a child with sensory issues and that can be very hard, but we work to be a positive support for him/her with the advice of a therapist and the principal. Too much information? Too bad. Let’s be real.”

That’s it. I want people to know that struggles, challenges, and especially Mental Illness do not define who we are. I want people to realize that a diagnosis doesn’t mean that we are less of an individual and have something to be ashamed of.

So no, I do not regret it. I do not regret this status due to the outpouring of support by Facebook friends either on the status or via messages proclaiming their appreciation of my honesty and their inspiration of my bravery. I do not regret it because of the friends of mine who then felt free to share their stories, their struggles, and their bravery, on the feed and privately. I do not regret it because if I even helped one person to feel less alone and less afraid, then it was worth exposing myself. And no, I do not regret it because this is the first step I am taking to help break down the stigma of mental illness and promote mental health.

May we have a truly happy month, and a Purim Sameach!

If anyone is interested in finding out more information about the Depression support group taking place in RBS, please e-mail ilanahillermsw@gmail.com.

If you are interested in finding out more information about the organization Chance To Heal that will help fund people who cannot afford therapy, please e-mail chancetoheal18@gmail.com