As I sat yesterday morning at a breakfast fundraiser for the Colorado Springs chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, I was thinking about how we rarely discuss mental illness in regular day-to-day conversation.
Which got me to thinking about a whole bunch of topics we avoid chatting about on hikes or over dinner with friends and family, primarily due to fear of judgment and shame.
- Addiction, it all its many forms.
- Death and dying.
- Body image.
Oh, we might chat about these (and other difficult) issues in the abstract.
About how certain magazines airbrush models.
About how colleges and universities are dealing (or not dealing) with rape, sexual harassment and bullying on campus.
About how men continue to take home greater pay then women.
But it is much more rare to talk about these things from a personal perspective. From our hearts. From our own voices to those who are important to us, and to those we may not know very well. To reveal ourselves.
Five years ago, I wrote a cover package for the Colorado Springs Independent on youth suicide. My research for this was what introduced me to NAMI's work (locally and nationally), and instigated a decision to open up publicly for the first time about my struggles with chronic depression, extreme anxiety, and debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder. Before the paper's print date, I did worry about what people would think, how they would judge me, but I had decided it was more important that I might be able to help someone. If just one person either sought help or altered his or her picture of mental illness, it would be worth it.
And I can say, it was worth it.
But I can also say, I still hide sometimes.
While I don't shy away anymore from conversations about my struggles when asked, or when speaking with people I know well, I have to admit, I rarely take the initiative to share my story.
To tell people that I'm on daily meds for my illness.
To tell people that if I accidentally miss a dose, I'm a mess that day, and the following.
To tell people that what it means for me to be "a mess" means different things at different times: sometimes, I can't get out of bed. Sometimes, I shake. Sometimes, I cry. A lot. Sometimes, I can't leave the house because I can't stop checking anything that might need checking, from locks to lights to any sort of heating element.
On the outside, I know I look put together. I work hard at that.
On the inside, some days I'm all put together. (I work hard at that too.) Other days, I'm like the kitchen junk drawer, never knowing what might pop out or jam the slider. Or frankly, what the heck is stuffed in there from years' past.
I know it's good for me to talk about these things. I know it's good for me and for others who struggle. And maybe, it's the best for those who know nothing at all about certain issues to hear about them from people who do.
As Audre Lorde said:
When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed. But when we are silent we are still afraid.
Of course, as I mentioned above, this isn't just about mental illness. It's about whatever topic is hard for you. Whatever makes you slightly sick to your stomach to think about discussing. Whatever makes you want to run away.
We all stuff behaviors and habits and biases.
I am who I am. And I'm proud to be who I am. Even on the days I need to hide.
But it's good to have a reminder every now again that while keeping quiet might feel safe, opening up, being vulnerable, is what will change the world. One person at a time.