Whenever I bring up my mental illness, I usually get one of two reactions. More often than not, I am met with noticeable shifts in body language which signal uncomfortably and sympathetic glances that quickly melt into averted eye contact. In my experience, talking about mental illness can make people extremely uneasy- like it is a taboo subject that should be kept hidden in a box shoved to the back of a closet. This type of response will cause shame and embarrassment to rise in my chest… why does this piece of me make people feel so awkward? These feelings caused me to hide my disorder from the public for nearly 8 years. I felt like a liar, an impostor, a fake shell of a person. I felt unbearably alone in my struggle against depression and anxiety.
This is why I often hold my breath when I first share my story with new people. I know that I will be met either with the aforementioned uncomfortably or a reaction that leads to a new connection, deeper and more meaningful than one can imagine. Suffering with mental illness can be so isolating, thus when one meets someone who is struggling with the same thing (or something similar), it can feel like a breath of fresh air. FINALLY- someone who I can talk to without feeling ashamed or judged. Ever since I started sharing my story, I have been blown away by the number of people who have reached out to share their own struggle and offer words of encouragement. I have been touched by the countless individuals who have sent a text or Facebook message to explain that they have been struggling to overcome their own feelings and want advice on how to seek professional help.
This is why I want to talk about my mental illness.
I want the stigma attached to mental illness to transform into support for those who are struggling. This idea that mental illness is something that we should keep hidden and those that are affected should suffer in silence is ridiculous. Approximately 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year. THAT IS ALMOST 20% OF OUR FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, CO-WORKERS, NEIGHBORS. Instead of stigmatizing them, we should be supporting them. Instead of shunning mental illness, we should start conversations about it. Instead of hiding our struggles, we should be sharing our stories.
This is why I want to talk about my mental illness. I want people to know that it is okay to not be okay. I want people to know that you can live a full life, be successful, and have a chronic mental illness. I want to end the stigma associated with mental illness. I want people to know that they are not alone and there are people who are so willing to help and support them. I want people to ask questions, learn about mental illness, and stop treating my depression/anxiety like a taboo subject.
So lets talk.