“I have Paranoid Schizophrenia, but I do not choose to be alone because of it. I choose to be alone because I do not fear spending more time with myself than I do others. I am comfortable with my body, with my mind. I love myself. I have Paranoid Schizophrenia. I see things. Hear them. This is not because I have been treated badly. It’s because my great-grandmother had Paranoid Schizophrenia, and so does my uncle. Our brains work differently, and they have from the start.” – Allie Burke
Sarah Fader lives with panic disorder, ADHD, and major depressive disorder. Allie Burke has paranoid schizophrenia. Neither of them want your sympathy or pity – they’re doing just fine. They want you to know that different isn’t bad or sad or scary. It’s just different. All of us have stories, and no two are the same.
That’s the concept behind Stigma Fighters, the nonprofit Sarah established that is dedicated to erasing the shame of mental illness.
“In 2014, I grew tired of hiding the fact that I lived with mental health conditions. I finally had the ovaries to tell my story. I had the world’s attention, as a blogger for The Huffington Post, so I wrote my story about living with mental illness for the Healthy Living section of The Huffington Post. The post was called Fighting Against the Stigma of Mental Illness and it is about my life,” Sarah says. The response to her story was overwhelming. People were grateful. Sarah realized that she wanted to provide a safe place for people with mental illness to share their experiences, without fear or judgment. Stigma Fighters was born. It currently houses over 100 essays – powerful stories of struggle, trauma, and sometimes abuse, but ultimately, all are stories of triumph because of this simple fact: people are speaking.
Sarah and Allie connected through a mutual friend, author Rachel Thompson, who knew of Allie’s book, Paper Souls, and of her openness about living with schizophrenia. She thought the two would be a good fit. They bonded immediately, and together, they are creating a movement. Stigma Fighters is in the process of creating writing workshops at high schools and colleges around the country that will allow young people to write and publish their stories in a collection.
Sarah says, “We have divisions of Stigma Fighters in Canada, Australia, and The United Kingdom. I am excited about Stigma Fighters Teen – a place where teenagers with mental health issues can share their stories with parental consent. Finally, we have Stigma Fighters Deaf, a place where the deaf or hard of hearing can share their stories about living with mental illness.
Stigma Fighters began as an online community where real people with mental illness shared their stories, and it transformed into so much more. We will be releasing our first anthology of the stories from people living with mental illness in May 2015. Some of the stories included are from award-winning author Rachel Thompson, Once Upon a Time actor Michael Coleman, and from myself and Allie Burke, bestselling author of Paper Souls. I hope that this anthology will change people’s lives. I believe that it will show people living with mental illness that they are far from alone, that we are standing beside them proudly.”
To learn more about Stigma Fighters and how you can support their cause and share your own story, go here.