Your story can change the world

Stories are so powerful. As humans, it’s how we learn about the world and make sense of things.

Learn How

Why share your story

When it comes to creating a connection with someone, letting others know they aren’t alone, and eradicating stigma – nothing is more powerful than opening up and being vulnerable. It’s easy to believe in something, it hard to be part of the solution by actually putting yourself out there.

An issue only has “stigma” attached to it when it’s not accepted as mainstream. Statistically speaking, it’s hard to find something more mainstream than mental health… so why shy away from the topic if we know it affects almost everyone we know in some way? How many times have you not said how you feel in fear of being judged, only to find out that same person has gone through something almost identical to you? How good does it feel when you both realise that all those “weird” and “abnormal” thoughts and feelings you were having, weren’t so uncommon after all? The fact that it is challenging to talk is the whole reason why we are here. It doesn’t need to be hard. If we can get to a level of social acceptance and understanding around the issue, we won’t have to hide from this anymore. It will be normal.

Area you ready to share your story?

Mental health is a sensitive area that needs careful consideration as to how and when we talk about it. It can be incredibly confronting to speak to a trained Psychologist about your inner struggles, let alone speak about it publicly.

Granted – when we share our story publicly it is almost always positive, however, every situation is unique and it’s important you carefully evaluate if and how you go about doing so. If sharing a story does more harm than good, for yourself or others, you shouldn’t do it.

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Find out if you are ready to share your story.

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  • Lived Experience

    Do you have direct experience personally dealing with, or supporting someone else through, a challenging time that involved significant emotional distress or impairment to your/their life?

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There are many benefits to sharing your story:

The chance to help someone else - this is the greatest benefit of all. Sharing your story is a major way for someone to make meaning from pain. Nothing is more empowering than transforming your suffering into someone else’s learning & healing. You literally have the potential to save a life simply by communicating a shared human experience.

Getting it off your chest - the freedom that comes from dropping the “mask” and being you can’t be overstated. You regain so much energy and space by not having to worry about being “found out”. People can finally see you for the real you.

Receiving encouragement - the bravery is takes to live authentically is very often rewarded by mountains of encouragement and celebration from people around you who recognize and appreciate your strength. This sense of community and recognition nourishes the soul and empowers you in every area of your life.

Further ownership of our story - sharing publicly can be a big part to fully owning our story. It forces us to coherently understand ourselves better and make peace with our demons. It can free us from the niggling claws that still keep us bound by the doubt and insecurity. By virtue of the fact we are being so outward about our experience, we are no longer bound by it.

There are also potential pitfalls to sharing your story:

Unexpected reactions - Just like when you tell people privately, public storytelling is similar. Most people will get it, commend you on it, and will support you as best they can. However, some people may not. That doesn’t mean you were wrong to share, but it can be incredibly confronting and destabilising. Unsettling reactions can come in several forms:

No reactions: sometimes when people say nothing, it hurts the most. For example – seeing someone at the coffee shop who now knows something about you that is intimate and raw but pretends nothing happened and never addresses it with you, can leave you feeling exposed. They may simply not know what to say or how to act around you (not a bad thing, just a consideration). Don’t make up stories in your head around why this may be. Be ok with not knowing, or take the initiative to bring it up with them directly by asking how it landed with them.

Confused reaction: some people may not get it… plain and simple. Even after you bare your wounds and feel emotionally “naked”, others may just not comprehend how or why you felt/acted a certain way. This can feel invalidating. Knowing that not everyone will understand usually is enough to eliminate this fear, particularly if there are a few key people who really do understand already. Not everyone needs to.

Critical reactions: some people may actually criticise you for how you felt or the choices you made. The potential for this outcome stresses the importance of being in a stable headspace before you share, and to integrate as much of your issues as possible so that the reactions of others don’t retraumatise or open the wound. A lot of this comes down to the spirit in which you share. People can smell when you are being a victim or using your mental health as a scapegoat vs. owning your experience, not letting it be an excuse for anything, but recognising its important context that people should know about you.

Harmful reactions: At it’s most extreme, some people may very publicly try to humiliate, “troll” or shame you for what you have done. This is most likely to happen on the internet via social media, if it’s going to happen at all. It is very uncommon. Out of hundreds of stories shared and thousands of comments made as part of Heart On My Sleeve, we have only ever had a handful of instances of outward negativity or trolling, which were shut down immediately. We have processes and procedures to deal with this on our pages and services, but you may not on your own channels. It is a low risk consideration, but it is something to have on your radar.

Implications at work. There are huge benefits to your manager and work colleagues knowing about your context. It will also set a precedent for more people to “bring their whole self to work”. However, it is natural and warranted to have fears regarding the knowledge of your mental health and how it may affect your ability to get a job in future or limit your current career progression.

There may also be concerns about workplace discrimination, harassment or bullying. If your workplace has approached you directly to be part of telling a story, you should feel confident that they have your back and will protect you from any unwarranted implications. Otherwise, think about discussing it with HR before you go ahead.

Triggering others. We may use language in our story that (unintentionally) triggers other people – particularly in the area of trauma or body image. We need to make sure the language we use isn’t negligent to considering where other people are at.

Not moving on. By telling out story, we can become trapped in the cycle of reliving it or misperceiving that it is still has power over us. This is really only a potential if you are sharing on a repetitive basis. The more comfortable we are with our story & the healthier the boundaries we build, the less painful it is to reshare.

Relationship implications. When we are public about our story, it doesn’t just affect us - it affects those around us. Family members or friends involved in your journey may feel they have let you down. This could come in the form of anger toward you for bringing attention to the issue, or they may deny the issue even existed at all and blame you for being “dramatic”. They may be asked questions about it and will feel blindsided if they aren’t in the loop about what you have chosen to do. Being conscious and respectful of other people’s roles in your story and the implications it may for them is important, but ultimately it is your story. When done right, there should be total transparency and no negativity caused for anyone involved.

What should not stop you from sharing your story

Not having a “diagnosis” – you don’t need one to tell your story. Having a diagnosis is great too.

Being of a certain demographic – everyone and anyone is entitled to sharing their story.

The presence of any form of “risk” – there is always risk in doing something like this. But the presence of risk doesn’t indicate a threat. Making sure the good outweighs the bad is the main thing.

Feeling a bit uncomfortable or scared – it’s normal and healthy to feel uncomfortable about it. Being at your edge is a sign of growth. We just don’t want to push our self too far.

Feeling like your story is irrelevant or won’t matter – everyone has the right to feel heard.

You also need to consider the pros and cons of not telling your story - the pain of living behind a wall of fear and false perceptions can be too overbearing. As the great Maya Angelou said “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you". Usually it’s the things we don’t do that we regret more than the things we do.

4 Steps to sharing

  • 1. Draw a heart on your outer forearm

    Tip: draw it just above your elbow with your first raised in the air - proud and strong. Use any type of pen or marker. If you don’t want to get ink on your skin, buy one of our temporary tattoos on our website, or even a lapel pin.

  • 2. Take a selfie, or start recording a video

    Make sure your drawn heart is visible.

  • 3. Tell your story

    Tell your story in the caption of the photo or in the video. What has happened along your journey (the good, the bad, and the in between), and where has it led you to today.

  • 4. Share on social media

    Share on social media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter) with the hashtag #heartonmysleeve and tag @heartonmysleeve

  • 1. Draw a heart on your outer forearm

    Tip: draw it just above your elbow with your first raised in the air - proud and strong. Use any type of pen or marker. If you don’t want to get ink on your skin, buy one of our temporary tattoos on our website, or even a lapel pin.

  • 2. Take a selfie, or start recording a video

    Make sure your drawn heart is visible.

  • 3. Tell your story

    Tell your story in the caption of the photo or in the video. What has happened along your journey (the good, the bad, and the in between), and where has it led you to today.

  • 4. Share on social media

    Share on social media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter) with the hashtag #heartonmysleeve and tag @heartonmysleeve

Storytelling training

Sign up to our free online course to tell your story in the right way.

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Tell your story on the podcast

Are you willing to share your story on the Heart On My Sleeve Podcast?

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