I had a friend of mine ask me, "Ilyssa, why do you talk about your mental health so much?" To that, I did not really have an answer at first. It was so shocking to be asked, not because the question was rude, but because I had never thought about it. Why am I so vocal about it? When did I start being bold? What changed in me? These were the questions I found myself stuck on, because, truth be told, I knew I was passionate about it, but I had never qualified why.

My "why" came when I sat down with my roommate to discuss an upcoming event about suicide prevention. I told her that I was thankful that she knew where I was coming from; that it felt good to know that she shared similar certain thoughts and feelings. It was at that moment that I realized that my why was that I did not want anyone to feel the way that I felt. I remember growing up and realizing that my personal life was atypical. I remembered feeling isolated in my own mind, a victim to the thoughts that plagued me.

None of my friends understood why I wanted to self-harm. None of my peers understood the concept of abuse, depression, or mental illness. I grew up feeling alone. I watched my friends grow up and lead normal lives where they were not limited by the prison of their own mind. If I ever attempted to reach out to anyone, I was viewed as "weak," or "sensitive," and told to "toughen up, everyone has rough times." I felt voiceless. I was empty.

I remember receiving my diagnosis and the empowerment it gave me. Putting a word to what I was feeling helped me gain the strength I needed to be vocal. Once I started talking openly about my mental health, I was shocked to learn that more people dealt with it than I had originally thought. They shared their stories with me, and I shared mine with them. In almost every instance, I would hear, "I just felt so alone. I felt like no one understood. me" That is what lit a fire in me. That statement alone encompassed the feelings I had. That statement became my why.

I work for a mental health agency, and I feel more confident now than I ever have to come forward with my diagnosis story and my recovery story. I have told my story on many occasions to many people, and I would sometimes get looks of horror, as though my depression was communicable. I felt like another one of the "crazies." Yet, through all of my experiences, I remember what it was all for.

This is for that little girl that felt so alone. This is for the girl that just wanted to be understood for what she was. I never wanted anyone to feel the same emotions that I did. I wanted to start the cycle of change. It took me long enough to realize it, but now I know that the reason that I refuse to stay silent is because I have someone I owe it to. I owe it to 12-year-old Ilyssa to be the hero I always needed. My mental health is such a huge part of who I am that I refuse to be quiet.

I hope that one of these days, I will be able to be the advocate that I needed. I hope that I can be part of the change that eliminates the stigma. So no, I will not stop talking about my mental health any time soon. I hope that the constant buzzing in your ear stirs up the desire to change. I want to make my message clear that you are never alone. Change starts with me, it starts with you. It starts with us.