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It's Still Scary to Say 'I'm Mentally Ill'


“Hi, my name is Amy, and I’m mentally ill.”

No, that doesn’t sound right.

“Hi, I’m Amy and I have a mental illness.”

Hmm.

“Hi, I’m Amy and I’m on meds for my brain.”

Why is that sentence so much less scary to me? Why is it so scary for me to admit I have a mental illness?

I’ve had depression potentially my whole life. I got the diagnosis and started on medication almost three years ago. In that time, I’ve been on three different doses of two different varieties of antidepressants, and I’ve been sent to several different kinds of counseling, all of which made me feel worse. Admitting this to the internet doesn’t feel scary. Admitting this to my family, however, is something that feels impossible to me. Impossible to the point where thinking about it makes me want to either vomit or cry. Fun.

There is so much stigma surrounding mental illness, and I am so grateful to be living in a time where that stigma is starting to fade. Every person I’ve told about my struggles has been wonderfully supportive, and I don’t have the words to say just how encouraging that’s been. When I can be open about my struggles, I also find that encouraging, and I’ve had friends tell me my honesty has been really helpful to them. Why, then, does each new “honesty moment” fill me with such fear?

My mom’s brother died when he was 17. It was suicide. I remember when I was 16, I was going through a crisis, and I admitted to my closest friend that I didn’t think I would make it to 17. I did, and I suppose I’m grateful, but that’s not the point I’m making now. I’ve seen my whole life how suicide can impact a family, how my mom and her family have responded to her brother’s death. It was about 40 years ago now, and I still feel ice in the room when his name is mentioned. It’s like this strange taboo. I remember my mom referring to her brother’s actions as “selfish” when I was much younger, and that one word — “selfish” — has haunted me ever since. It tells me that for me, suicide is not an option, and thinking about it as much as I do makes me a “selfish” person, too.

Part of my reluctance to come out to my family as mentally ill, as struggling with depression and anxiety in the way I do, almost seems silly. There are “Time to Talk” stickers in my parents’ kitchen. And yet they are the last people in the world I’d want to talk to about it. I’d rather continue to let them think I’m “lazy” (their words), useless and good-for-nothing (my words) than admit the truth. I know just how little sense it makes.

Sometimes, I like to think of myself as a mental health advocate. In front of the right people, I’m perfectly OK with sharing some of the ugly sides of my mental health stories and educating people. I’m perfectly OK telling people I’m on medication, and most of the time, all I need to do is take a deep breath before I tell them what it’s for. I’m not ashamed of my struggle; it’s just a small part of who I am. There is so much more to me.

I’m not ready to fully come out yet. I’m not ready for the whole world to know I’ve got a mental health problem. One day I might be, though. I’ve seen the power of honesty and sticking together, and how supportive people can be at helping each other through the dark times.

“Hi, my name is Amy, and I’m mentally ill.”

That’s a scary sentence now, but it’s one I’m confident I’ll one day be able to say. Even to my parents.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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