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From Percy Jackson to Mental Health: Why Stories Matter

By: Maheshwari Rajesh


I fell in love with stories when I was eight years old. Percy Jackson tends to have that effect on people, luring readers into an impossible world where battling monsters happens on a daily basis. It’s unbelievable, yet so relatable, because Percy feels the same pain, joy, and love like us—his story helps us feel heard and seen.


That’s how tales create our strongest connections; they are the threads that weave and unify the tapestry of our world. Stories found me when I was lost and became my compass, guiding me even when the clouds covered the stars.


They instruct us on empathy, opening our eyes to other's anguish and loss, humanizing the world; tales help us overcome our most cardinal fear: being alone. “To be a person is to have a story to tell," Isak Dinsen once said, and she’s right (1). We all have tales that convey our truth, emotions, and essence.


The frightening part is that the closer your story is to your heart, the more vulnerable you feel when you share.


Mental health stories tend to roll that way, since sharing means putting yourself out there; it means tearing your walls down, showing the world that you aren't perfect, that you might not always be strong.


But only by showing our pain, can we allow ourselves to grow.


Our stories of our struggles are powerful. According to Jay Boll from Resources-to-Recover (RtoR), “Serious mental illness has a deep and lasting impact on the people it touches. For many, it is the defining experience of their lives. It would be unbearable to think that these experiences are without meaning." Telling your tale can give you perspective on how much you have changed and grown, helping you accept what you’ve had to face. “Sharing your story makes recovery real...Until that happens, it [recovery] is just a hope inside you. Once you tell someone, you have made a declaration to another human being: I or my loved one faced mental illness and this is how we coped." That can make all the difference in the journey to healing (1).


Want to know the best part of sharing? Each time you recount your story, it gets easier and easier to get the words out. It gives you empowerment and proof that your illness didn't break you—it just made you stronger. According to Boll, sharing your story can help you “find your voice." It helps structure the chaos of a painful experience, giving it a beginning, a middle, an end, and a moral. “It allows you to think about your life events and express them in a way that makes sense to other people and ultimately to yourself” (1).


When I first told someone outside my family that I had fought a mental illness, it was in the spur of the moment. That worked for me, but everyone has their own method. If you need to, plan out when and where you want to share; sometimes having control over even simple things like the setting can make your experience less daunting (2).


Here's the real kicker: your story just might help others. It could make another person feel less alone (1), giving them—and you—a support system, which can be vital when revisiting painful memories (3). Sharing builds community, giving both of you the ability to relate to people who underwent similar experiences. It also spreads awareness and understanding, and with it comes positive change. Furthermore, you can facilitate the discussion for mental health, supporting the removal of the stigma and negative stereotypes surrounding it (2).


That being said, you should never be forced to share your story or be put in an uncomfortable situation. Be in a safe space, so that you and your audience feel welcome and secure; it will also make your message more powerful and resonating (3).


Also, speech isn't the only way you can communicate your experiences. Writing or recording yourself can be equally beneficial if you have a need to express yourself; it makes your recovery more real. If you want to broadcast your writing or video to others, go for it, but just be aware of your audience and outreach.


I cannot stress this enough, but please remember that telling your story isn't a replacement for getting help—it's just a stepping stone on your way to self-acceptance and realization (3). Nothing beats professional assistance.


However, at the end of the day the decision to share your story is up to you. All I ask is that you consider the benefits you and others may reap from it. As Maya Angelou best explains, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” (1).


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1) Jay Boll, Editor in Chief. “6 Reasons to Share Your Story of Recovery.” Resources To Recover, 12 Sept. 2016, www.rtor.org/2015/01/27/the-way-back-from-mental-illness-6-reasons-why-you-should-tell-your-story-of-hope-and-recovery/.


2) “Telling Your Story.” Heads Up, Heads Up, www.headsup.org.au/your-mental-health/telling-your-story.


3) “12 Things to Remember When Sharing Your Mental Health Story.” WayAhead, wayahead.org.au/telling-your-story/.


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