I’m coming out. You might think I am referring to my sexuality, but I’m not. I am referring to the fact that every single day, I wake up and make the decision to put on a brave face and fight what is going on in my mind. I’m coming out as someone who struggles with mental illness, or more specifically, anxiety.
Mental illness began affecting my life when I was 11 years old. When I first started the long battle that comes with my illness, even my immediate family did not know. When I was 11, I had no idea what mental illness was. I convinced myself I was not “normal” and what was going on in my mind deserved to remain a secret. Even my sister, who was and is my best friend, had no idea for over three years how I was struggling. For a long time, I used every excuse I could think of to conceal the secret I thought of my illness as.
Three years after I first started therapy, I spontaneously came out to my best friends. I remember how, when and where I told them. I remember the tears that streamed down their faces and receiving the tightest hugs they had ever given me. This was the first time I realized how amazing it actually can be to open up. I had this big grey area in my life that no one knew about for so long. When I opened up, it was like that grey area had gained some color.
Even though it feels amazing to be honest and open with the important people in my life, I’ve learned it isn’t an easy thing to do.
I will always struggle with anxiety. Even on my good days, one small thing will happen and I lose sleep over it, rather than remembering the other million good things that happened that day. Being honest about the biggest secret I’ve ever kept came along with, understandably, a lot of anxiety. The questioning about whether people will still like me, if they will look at me differently, if they will underestimate me, etc. overwhelmed me on some days. But the reason why I decided to finally be honest is because I realized there are too many people, too many 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds who struggle in silence and may not realize their mental illness does not define who they are.
So today, I’m coming out. I’m coming out to the world, and I’m coming out to the people who will judge me for my decision to be open. Most importantly, I’m coming out to the important people in my life who have had no idea for years that I’ve been struggling. I’m coming out as someone who has dealt with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, social anxiety and panic attacks. I’m coming out as someone who has seen a therapist for years and has been on medication for almost as long — and is totally OK with that.
To the person reading this, I leave you with one thought: Whether you support or judge me or anyone who lives with a mental illness, know that any battle we fight does not define who we are or who we are going to be. And to the person with mental illness reading this, I leave you with three words — anything is possible. Even learning to manage your illness is possible. Oh, and by the way, it is never too late or too early to come out. It’s OK to acknowledge what you are facing, because I promise you it is powerful.
Image via Thinkstock.
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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