By Ashley Sargent, ChronicallySargent.com
If you live with any type of mental illness, there is a good chance that you spend a fair amount of time and energy trying to hide it from those around you. While there are times that this may be beneficial or feel necessary, more often than not it isn’t. I urge anyone living with and recovering from mental illness to be as open about it as possible with those around you. I am not suggesting that you bring it up right away when you first meet someone, instead imagine that your illness is simply another part of you that you should share with the people in your life and don’t need to hide. It is hard to talk about, but it is also extremely difficult to hide. What would happen if you chose the hard of living honestly and openly regarding your mental health struggles?
You may be thinking…
“Why would I ever do that?! This person has no idea how terrifying and painful it can be to open up, and have people know and judge my darkest self.”
The thing is, I get it, more than I wish I did sometimes. I actively live the decision to be open and honest every day, and I am here to tell you that it is worth it!
If for no other reason, hiding your mental illness, especially during the times when you are struggling does not serve you or those around you. Mental illness is an invisible illness, meaning even if you are in terrible pain, chances are those around you will not know what is happening. You cannot get the support that you need if you do not tell anyone that you need it. We can’t expect something we don’t ask for! Similarly, those around us may be confused by our behavior or communication if we do not tell them about something that is happening, but that they cannot see. I know that for myself, when I am struggling, my behavior, attitude, tone and body language can all come across much different than I intend. This often leads to confusion, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings.
For example I sometimes go through periods where my panic and anxiety conditions are off the charts. I don’t look any different, and there are no obvious reason for me to be struggling so nobody would know… except for one thing. When this happens I get an irrationally short temper, a scattered brain and an overall prickly personality. Generally this behavior is interpreted as me being angry with someone and I have unknowingly hurt a lot of feelings in this state. The sad thing is I am not mad, but really I am lost in a frenzied darkness and all bets are off when it comes to my normal behavior. Once I started talking openly and honestly with those around me about what was happening, I stopped hurting as many feelings and was able to get the support I need to get me through. In being honest I have been able to find healing in myself as well as many relationships, and I get in much fewer confusing and totally unproductive fights.
We are all humans on this journey of life and we are more successful together. Honesty creates space for healing, for real human connection and my personal favorite a chance to find humor in the darkest of times. Nobody is perfect and owning and embracing our flaws can not only be healing for us, but for those around us. Healing and recovery is a long process, one that is often a lifelong journey. Some times and parts of that journey are harder than others. I know for certain that having a support system, communicating with them, being open and honest, and allowing yourself to ask for help will make your journey easier.
While our pattern may be to hide our mental illness, it is a waste of time and energy. It is hard to be open and to share our darkness, but in doing so we are able to get the support and help we need. To try and hide our illness and deal with it alone is, in my opinion, even more difficult and does not lead to help or healing, but isolation and confusion. Both options are hard, but when we make the choice to open and share our truth it supports our personal healing and the healing of our collective world. By sharing your story you are able to educate people about often very misunderstood and highly stigmatized conditions, but in a natural way.
The best way to help someone understand is to teach them, and the best way to get what you need is to ask for it.
So the next time that you are tempted to hide your mental health struggles, remember that in hiding you stay alone, but through honesty and open communication you open yourself up for the support you need and have the ability to slowly change the misconceptions and stigma that makes you want to hide in the first place.
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