On Tuesday April 7th, I attended a talk by Melody Moezzi, a Wesleyan graduate who developed bipolar disorder in college and went on to become a lawyer, writer, feminist, and activist. And she’s Iranian, Muslim, American, and if not obvious already, a woman.

Ms. Moezzi focused on the need to reduce stigma/discrimination against those with mental illness, drawing on her own experiences. She had been misdiagnosed with the wrong disorder for 10 years. She has had traumatizing experiences with the mental health system–or lack thereof. She was inspiring and ordinary as well as being extraordinary. She talked about how she didn’t want to romanticize her disorder, but that she found utility in having access to an alternative way of thinking and seeing the world. But she was very clear about the costs of having that illness in the first place. She said it would be “criminal” on her part not to be an advocate now that she is ready and able to share her experience. She takes advantage of her privileges and uses them to empower herself and others.

The most powerful moment of the talk was at the very end when someone in the audience, who had revealed her personal experience with mental illness, asked how could she, Melody Moezzi, be so empowered after everything she’d been through and not feel like a victim of the system?

Ms. Moezzi explained that by talking to people like you (referring to the audience member) and opening up discourse and hearing people who struggle with so much more or who are so much more successful, that is how she becomes empowered. She said that she hoped her talk would make us feel just a little more empowered. Because you are empowered. You are not alone. And even though I have heard these words before, the order and candidness with which she spoke them made them seem brand new.

The talk ended, we clapped, no one wanted to move from their seats. We sat there for a few moments, in silence, and slowly picked up our things and crawled out of our chairs. Ms. Moezzi went to embrace the audience member with the last question. I heard her say, “I was once where you are today.” I ran out of the room, I ran home, I peed, and I started writing this.

I write now because I want you to know that someone is advocating for you and that someone else is just waiting for you to be an advocate yourself. Take care, please, and call for help when you need it. Asking for help, as Ms. Moezzi said, is a sign of strength and intelligence. Help yourself and help your loved ones starting now.

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