Why Being Honest About My Mental Illness Was So Important
There is power in being honest. Take it from someone who spent decades keeping her mouth shut. There is a glorious joy in not being ashamed of who you are.
I’m not just talking about telling the truth when someone asks – which should be the human default but usually isn’t – but in starting the conversation. Talking about something just because the words need to be birthed and sent out into space.
In a world where speaking the truth will get you killed in some countries, I spent decades silent and alone because I chose to. Well, that’s not really fair. Depression, anxiety, and later, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not choices. They were (and still are from time to time) a very real prison. Well, maybe more like a prison guard, who stands over you with a blackjack. Any attempt to speak – or even stand up – is greeted with a swat to the extremities, and down you go again.
Eventually, you stop trying.
When I was finally let out – through a combination of medication, therapy, and some miracle of God — I read a lot. The Mighty. To Write Love on Her Arms. #ImNotAshamed. I loved reading the honest stories of people who had struggled — or were still struggling — yet faced their pain like heroes.
And the more I read, the more I felt like it was OK to talk about my condition to my friends. And the more I talked about it, the more empowered I felt. Most of my friends didn’t care either way, and some of them became more understanding of my sudden disappearances during a panic attack.
Like most people, I like lists. Driving into work today I came up with four reasons why being honest about my mental health issues has changed my life.
During the decades I spent trying to be a “good girl” and fit in, I didn’t let people see the real me, which resulted in being lonely all the time. Every day. Now I’m honest about who I am, and while a middle-aged woman who’s obsessed with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and quotes Nietzsche still isn’t going to be prom queen, there’s at least the possibility that I might run into someone looking for nerdish companionship.
Being honest is a virtuous act. And philosophically, I believe that virtue is its own reward. Every intrinsically good action we take changes us for the better. Lying about who I am is wrong, and that includes saying I’m OK when I’m not.
I can help people. I can show them how empowering it is to speak up. Even if they can’t speak up for themselves, maybe they’ll find comfort in hearing someone else’s story. I did.
For some reason, the simple act of speaking truth makes me feel like a combination of Xena Warrior Princess and Joan of Arc. In being brave, I realize I can be brave, which makes me do even more brave things, which makes me feel stronger. And feeling like you can take on the world after years of lying on the floor at the mercy of a blackjack is indescribable.
It’s like escaping prison.
Follow this journey on www.christinekillmer.com.
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Thinkstock photo by ipopba