As someone who grew up with anxiety, depression, and social trigger based fears, I always felt like it was a secret that was not meant to be shared outside of a very tight social circle of family and friends. I have met other people through my life who have experienced the same sort of seclusion or stigmatizing.
When I was a teenager, there was a brief stint of time where I had opened up to a therapist about some of my anxieties and feelings and was directed quickly (and aggressively) to a psychiatrist who medicated me the first day of treatment. I went through several miss-diagnoses, which involved me being put on several trial medications. At the end of this period I was lucky enough to have family that strongly requested that I was taken off of medicine, and after recalibrating I was able to get back to my formerly anxious but functioning state. This experience reinforced that thought in my head that the things I feel are not things that should be shared, and that it was possibly even dangerous to do so. I want to add the disclaimer here that there are so many amazing therapists and psychotherapists out there, and that medication can be a real and productive answer for people who have several types of mental health conditions.
Another type of wall that many people who are struggling with Mental Health conditions might be familiar with (I know I am)…is the “brush off” or “easy fix” feedback from others. After hearing “just go out for a walk,” “It can’t be that bad,” ” but everything is going so well for you,” etc. it can feel like a hopeless battle reaching out for support. Mental health conditions are not necessarily intuitive to people who are not experiencing them and can be easy to dismiss. This has caused me to isolate even more in the past, and have self-defeating mindsets about being alone in my situation.
Speaking of that scary word ALONE…I finally started being more vocal about my struggles, and it took me thirty-something years to get here, but what I am seeing is that we are far from alone. We are living in a world full of difficulties and stress that can very much seem like an uphill battle, but there are so many of us that are feeling these same things. While we can’t necessarily make mental illness more intuitive to people who are less familiar with it, we can tap into a giant fricken support system across everyone who IS living in this reality. What is truly exciting about doing this, is we can work together as a group to not only create better resources for people like us, we can also develop resources for people who want to learn how to communicate with us more productively!
So how do we start???
Number one is to START TALKING TO PEOPLE: Speak with people about what you are feeling, speak to people who are trying to find people to talk to. We all need support, and starting the conversation is a crucial part of finding a solution.
Number two is to practice not reading into less constructive feedback. While being told, “it is all in your head” doesn’t feel great, and isn’t the most helpful, from my experience it comes from a positive place. I am working on developing an arsenal of responses to less feedback useful where I can be honest about the fact that the answer is appreciated, not the most helpful and what might be more useful on my end.
Bottom line is a mental illness, or a mental health struggle is nothing to be ashamed about. So many people are hiding these huge internal fights, and us being more open about our struggles will pave the way for normalizing a problem that affects so many people. Living a double life (as I had done for so many years) where you are showing a positive or “cleaner” side of yourself while bottling up intense emotional chaos is toxic, and this is unfortunately common within the mental health space. We are all human, we are all deserving of love and support, and being honest about your needs is not only an incredibly important to being a happy and healthy person, but it also is imperative for changing the tide for mental wellness stigma, and improving the climate for others now and going forward.
What are some difficulties you have run into with being open about your feelings? Have you had trouble with knowing what to say when others have reached out to you? I would also love any tips and tools for making contact with other people who have similar experiences or who can relate to what you are going through.