Dana was driving me home on a crisp and bright winter afternoon some fifteen plus years ago. She was my new dance coach and mentor, and we had just started spending more time together. I really liked her and I knew I needed someone like her in my life. But that afternoon, as we drove along the frozen lake near my childhood home, I had no idea that everything was about to change in an instant. I had no idea that Dana was about to ask me a simple question that would change my life forever.
“How’s it going with your eating?”
I’ll never forget that moment. The details surrounding it may be hazy, but the question will be burned in my memory forever. It was the first time anyone had ever confronted me about the eating disorder that I had been hiding for well over a year.
My mind raced and I froze. In that moment, I knew I was trapped. I’d spent countless hours of my life creatively scheming and plotting duplicitous ways to keep my secret. But suddenly it was laid bare in plain sight, right in front of my eyes. Could I pretend I didn’t know what she was talking about? Could I possibly get away with denying it? I felt the tears welling up in my eyes as I sat there, completely at a loss.
To be honest, I don’t remember how I responded. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. But I remember that question. And I know that I must have come clean, because I remember what Dana did over the course of the next few weeks.
She walked with me. She took the hand of a very sad, very broken, very sick teenage girl, and she walked with me through the mess. We got together often and we talked. She gave me a safe place to open up, for the first time, about the darkest secret I’d ever kept. And she prayed for me. She talked to me about Jesus’s love and told me what the Bible had to say about who God created me to be. She encouraged me to take positive steps towards recovery and she held me accountable.
A few weeks later, Dana sat with me in the living room of my parents home and coached me through the most dreaded conversation of my life—telling mom and dad the truth about my eating disorder. I didn’t know it then, but as I look back on it now, I am awestruck by the significance—almost sacredness—of that moment. Had it not been for Dana, had it not been for her sitting me down and convincing me that I needed to tell my parents, had it not been for her promising to be there with me when I did… they might never have found out. I might never have talked to anyone about it. I might have kept my secret until it found me in an early grave.
But talking about it changed my life. Talking about it SAVED my life. Not right then and there. Not without many more years of struggle, hard work, and plenty of prayer. But eventually. Talking was the first step. And in that sense, talking was the most important step. Because if I hadn’t talked about it, I would have simply continued to live with it until I had died from it.
Today is #BellLetsTalk Day—a day dedicated to talking about issues of mental health to end the stigma and encourage those who are struggling to seek the help they need. And if there is anything I have learned from my own story over the years, it is that talking about mental health changes everything.
So today, if you are in the middle of a mental health battle and you are suffering in silence, my appeal to you is this: Talk. Today is the day to end your silence. Because your secrets will never love you. They will never be able to listen with compassion as you acknowledge your struggles, or take your hand and walk with you through the heartache. Sometimes it feels like we are safest inside of our secrets, but the truth is that this is the place where darkness dwells. And the longer we stay there in the grip of darkness, hidden away in our secrets, the more we will watch our lives slowly slipping away from us until there is nothing left.
Talk, because talking changes everything. Talk, because talking chases away the secrets. Talk, because talking makes you realize that the secrets weren’t enough to make the world turn its back on you after all. Talk, because talking shines a light on the darkness and makes it possible for you to find a way through.
And today, for those of you who are not in the thick of it, my appeal is still the same: Talk. Talk, because sometimes we don’t have the courage to speak up on our own. Talk, because sometimes we need a Dana to ask a scary question—one that nobody else would ask—to help us start the conversation. Talk, because there is always that somebody in your life who needs to know that someone else sees them and cares about what they are going through.
Today, no matter who you are, or what you’re going through—good, bad, or ugly—
Who do you need to talk to today?