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Representation Matters

There are two ways the media and entertainment industry like to portray mental illness. One is the romanticized tragedy, and the other is full of unpredictable outbursts a la 2007 Britney Spears. Neither is a great way to see yourself. Imagine being a newly diagnosed teenager and thinking, "Am I going to be tragic, or am I going to be unstable?" because those are the only futures you have been told exist.

Like the many people across North America who look forward to getting their heart ripped out for 1 hour once a week, I am a fan of the TV show This is Us. For those not familiar with the show, it is the story of a family and the various courses each persons life takes. One of the characters always works extremely hard to reach perfection in everything they do. Without the show saying it, it is clear he has anxiety. However, instead of that being the leading trait of the character he is first established as a loving husband and father, a devoted employee, and a connoisseur of corny jokes. It isn't until halfway through the first season that his anxiety is addressed.

He eventually has a nervous breakdown from an overload of responsibilities. But when he was shown curled up, crying and shaking in the corner of his office, it was the first time I felt seen. This was the first time I saw someone whose mental illness sometimes got in the way of life, but was still a happy and successful person. They weren't tragic or unstable, they were a person living with an illness.

Despite what the media and entertainment industry use to sell stories, having a mental illness is not a defining trait of who we are as people. Shockingly, I don't introduce myself as Kate the Anxious and Depressed. It is important that we are able to accurately see ourselves not only so that those living with mental illness know they're not alone, but also so that people who are being newly diagnosed know that their life isn't about to take some extreme detour.

People living with mental illness can be happy and successful. Sure we may have to work a little harder sometimes, but it is possible. And it is time that the world come to accept that and tell our stories.




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