May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so I’m sharing pieces of my past as part of a series to tell my story, support others going through mental health challenges, and change the conversation. As part of my personal calling to destigmatize mental health challenges and make them part of daily conversation, specifically by telling my own experience, I’m sharing a series of published pieces I’ve been asked to write on the topic. The following is the speech I gave from the front steps of The Capitol in March 2020 for the Texas Women’s March. Special thanks to then-executive director of NAMI- Central Texas, Karen Ranus, and then pastor of Servant Church, Kelly Shoenfelt, for needed edits to help me say what I wanted to say.
Date: March 2020
For: Texas Women’s March Speech at the Texas Capitol steps
Good morning beautiful people! What a good day to be alive – and I don’t take that lightly! To be here, to be with you. We are very different people with a common goal – of supporting women’s rights, because we know that supporting women’s rights is supporting human rights for all. My name is Kendall Antonelli and I stand with you today, as a white cis-gender woman, a caregiver, a mother/wife/daughter/sister, a local business owner and entrepreneur. I’m also often the last one in the school pickup line. Or the one having a good cry in a grocery store parking lot. Or the one who hasn’t washed her hair in days. AND I can be all these things and proud of them. And while these by no means define me, they are some of the hats I wear, the roles I fill, and the boxes I check. Another one of those roles is depression survivor.
You see, seventeen years ago, after a particularly scary night, I was hospitalized for severe depression and put behind locked doors in a psychiatric hospital for my own safety. And it was implied that I should keep this a secret…because I’d be judged. That I couldn’t get a job. That the common perception was one of weakness, of an emotional woman. That I wasn’t tough enough and needed to suck it up. The stigma was real. I was told I had a secret…. But the trouble is, I’m really bad at keeping secrets. And I never held this information close. I told everyone – not because I intended to be a mental health advocate, but sharing my story saved me. It was part of my own personal journey to recovery. And I stand here today to tell you. I stand here because mental health is just as important to talk about as physical health. There is no shame in my game. And by owning my own story, I’ve taken away the power of fear, of secrecy, of stigma. Checking a history of depression box is not a box that contains me. It doesn’t have power over me. Instead, my story gives me power. And, by talking about my own struggles, I know I’m creating space for others to be empowered to do the same. I’m making it okay to talk about mental health because we absolutely must talk about mental health.
As women, we face the unique challenge of being pulled in many directions – and for many of us, that includes the role of caregiver; for others of us, it means bending to societal norms to be something – someone – we’re not. We put pressure on ourselves to be superwomen. To be everything to everyone at once. We don’t want to let anyone down. And we’re scared to check in with ourselves – because it might mean dropping a ball. We’re scared to appear emotional or fallible. But when we’re busy being everything to everyone, we aren’t taking the time to show up for ourselves. Showing up for yourself – in whatever way is right for you – will help you show up better for others and for the causes you believe in.
Don’t get me wrong. The mental health journey can be tough. And it is just that – a journey – with no beginning and no end. (And lest I make this sound like a rosy picture and easy, straightforward thing, let me be clear that it was not.) But in looking back over my recovery, I am grateful for the support network I had – friends and family who stood by me… once they knew I needed them. And the hard work I did through therapy and a commitment to self-care… once I had professional guidance and people to pull me through it. And let me be clear that there is no sucking it up, working harder, getting over it – when you’re deep in it. You don’t know which way is up. Lastly, I think about the resources that were available to me because we had resources. And the realization that I had a lot of privilege in that vast support network and those resources is not lost on me. I had longer visitation hours. That I was able to jump waitlists and got the best doctor. That I knew “how to act.” And I have no doubt that the color of my skin and my socio-economic status played a part in that better treatment – whether intentional or unintentional. So I’ll be grateful for it, because I’m still standing here today. But in owning all of my story, I have to own that part too and recognize that I have a continued part to play in this conversation because we ALL have a right to those resources.
Mental health doesn’t discriminate. But how we respond, as individuals and as a community, does. Mental Health affects us all – regardless of our resources, race, religion. In a time of divisiveness, let this be common ground. One that we can all come together on. Let this be something we talk about openly, advocate for. Let us support organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) which makes support groups free and open to all and with a strong local chapter that is working to educate our police officers and first responders, so we can treat mental health challenges with mental health solutions. Let us support nonprofits like Austin Child Guidance Center, that provides free and low-cost mental health services to youth and families, regardless of what language you speak or the color of your skin. And vote! Voting is key to ensuring access to mental healthcare for everyone, not just those who can afford it or have insurance. We can each use our vote to protect others. Everyone deserves access to resources on mental health.
If you are currently in a dark hole, know that you are not alone. That dark hole has a way of making you feel like you’re the only one there, but the truth is, you are surrounded by other folks just like you… and if you call out, someone will answer it. And if we all call out, our voices will be heard, and we can’t be ignored. Good mental health, as well as challenges and various diagnoses all take on different forms. There is no cookie-cutter, one way, one model for all. Yet in talking about mental health together, we are creating a safe space for each person to explore their own mental health and live out their own journey.
Today, we are part of a local and national movement that joins our sisters and allies globally. Being here, together, rallying, marching across the country. We advocate for ourselves, and as allies. And we will keep moving forward despite efforts to push us back, to confine us to boxes, to limit our abilities, our selves, and our self expression. Limits to take away our rights. The powers that tell us we are insufficient or not enough… We are here today, stronger together…. This fills my cup. This is energizing work. Being with you refuels my tank. However, rights work is not always easy work. Advocating is tiring, is wearisome. It often feels easier NOT to have the conversation. But we must have the conversation. And in order to do that, we have to practice self care. If we want to stay in this fight, we’ll be stronger if we take care of ourselves.
Yes, Mental health affects us all. It is not an issue. It is not a cause. Whether you’re in a good place, a bad place, or somewhere in between. Whether it’s you or a friend or a loved one. Every single one of you out there is affected by it. In fact, 1 in 5 of you right now here with me today is working through some mental health challenge. That’s a higher prevalence rate than cancer, asthma, or diabetes. If it’s not you yourself, it’s someone you know – a loved one or neighbor, it’s the person next to you, who is living with a depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, substance abuse, or eating disorder. In fact, for those who are willing, let’s see a show of hands. Who here is affected by mental health?
Know the signs, look for signs, check in with yourself and your loved ones. We put a lot of the onus on people struggling (reach out, get help) but if you’re in a dark hole, it’s hard to see a way out. Sometimes, you need someone to shine a light on the darkness and show you the way out. As allies, we do that by reaching out and letting people know they’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to have tough conversations. There are resources like Integral Care to help you show your care for others in a nonjudgmental way, that invites support instead of stigma.
While they don’t always honor it, my children know that my closed door means I need alone time. And I reject notions of feeling guilty when I ask for downtime. After all, it’s my responsibility – no, we have enough responsibilities as it is – it’s my pleasure, my goal to model self care, to say that it’s okay to put ourselves first sometimes, because when we do, we’re better for others. Yes, this is a big, beautiful group of people – from all walks of life, with diverse journeys, facing different challenges and opportunities. And today, we stand here together. We acknowledge that our lives are often messy and imperfect. And instead of thinking that disqualifies us or weakens us or belittles us in some way, I encourage us to own those stories, claim them, voice them. Because that’s checking in with ourselves, supporting those we love, and changing the conversation. I stand with you today as a depression survivor. Actually, my friend called me a warrior, and I’ll claim that now as part of my story. I am a depression warrior. And a woman worthy of love and support. And a woman who drops the ball – a lot. And a woman who is often last in the school pick up line or who cries in the grocery store parking lot. And all these “ands” make me a better person. There is no shame in my game. Thank you for standing with me. For mental health. For those who currently don’t feel that they have the strength to face their challenges. We stand with you. Together, we are stronger. And we have, and we can, and we will continue to change the world.