a woman pointing out into the sea. Text reads: 27 unexpected consequences of opening up about your mental illness

27 Unexpected Consequences of Opening Up About Your Mental Illness

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While the state of your health and well-being is nobody’s business but your own, there’s a difference between keeping quiet about your mental illness because you’re a private person, and keeping quiet because you’re afraid of how others will react.

Because while everyone deserves privacy, no one should feel like they have to be silent because of shame.

And we’re not even talking about announcing your mental illness to the world. It could be as simple as confiding in friends and family about your diagnosis, how you’re doing and what they could do to support you.

But telling people who’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness can be tricky, and definitely comes with a certain level of risk. We asked people in our mental health community to tell us the reality of what happened when they opened up about their mental illness.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “People — strangers, old friends, people I went to school with — start opening up to me about their struggles. I bump into people on the street and instead of being ignored, they say, ‘Hey, I hope you’re doing well.’ I get asked for advice and get told I’m an inspiration to many. Having people feel confident enough to open up to me is one of the best feelings.” — Megan E.

2. “People reached out to me that I never expected to hear from, but I also lost so-called friends. I still feel like sharing my journey is the right thing to do. It’s so frustrating that people understand your heart can get sick, your stomach, etc. but nobody wants to believe or understand that your brain/mind is part of the body, it’s in your body and it can get sick, too. Nobody wants a mental illness but it happens and pretending that it’s not real will never help anyone. God bless to those of us who live it daily.” — Melodie K.

3. “People judge you, don’t care, or feel like you’re overreacting. Support is hard to find, it’s a taboo to this day. People who’ve been through it will support you, but otherwise they don’t.” — Gina C.

4. “The mixed reactions I get. People will start to open up about their own personal struggles and what they’re going through, which I really appreciate because it makes me feel less alone. But I also have people telling me I have no reason to be depressed, or have severe anxiety or take medication for my ADHD because I’m a mother and I need to think of my kids and how all of my problems will affect their upbringing. And when I hear stuff like that (especially if it comes from family) I feel absolutely horrible and like I’ve failed my children, my husband and myself, all because I’m choosing to not ignore my problems and try to treat them.” — Alix P.

5. “I found out that just about everyone I know has been diagnosed or suspects that they too have one or more of the illnesses I have. I realized that they are afraid of the stigma attached to their diagnosis and therefore never spoke about it, and I also found that they are relieved to have someone else to talk to who understands and won’t judge because they are going through it too.” — Desiree N.

6. “Support, even from those I didn’t expect it from. Reassurance that I’m not alone, in that people have shared their similar experiences. Surprise that I internalized it for so long. Some weren’t that surprised, evidently I wasn’t hiding it nearly as well as I’d thought. Concern, but most of all love.” — Elise W.

7. “Some people were surprised when I was first diagnosed with depression because they didn’t think I had anything to be depressed about.” — Erica S.

8. “I was so surprised… and relieved… to find out how many other friends and family dealt with it too. I had no idea. Regular people living mostly regular lives… it made me feel so much better about my own diagnosis!” — Julie B.

9. “Depression, anxiety, OCD and bipolar. I’ve had reactions across the spectrum. I’ve had people cry for my story. I’ve had people hold me. I’ve had people tell me to, ‘Suck it up, and stop pitying myself.’ I’ve lost friends. Most importantly, I’ve made friends, because people have opened up to me and shared their pain. I’ve felt as lonely as I’ve felt accepted, and that’s what’s shocking. Everyone has a different reaction to it.” — Sarah C.

10. “Two words happen the most… ‘Me too.’ There are so many people out there struggling quietly, and I realized that by using my voice in opening up about my struggles, I give others a voice as well. We are all in this together and the more we open up, the more we can see and feel that.” — Jen D.

11. “I felt free. I finally found an outlet for my emotions and decided that I have to stop bottling them up before I broke down (again). I also decided that this is me and if you want to be in my life, you better understand that I don’t have to hide myself.” — Kayla S.

12. “People I thought would be understanding and compassionate seemed uncomfortable whenever I even mentioned mental illness, and they began distancing themselves from me. It hurt so much. Now, I just avoid hanging out with anyone and I don’t bother maintaining friendships because I’m afraid it will happen again.” — Rachel W.

13. “People I hadn’t talked to in a long time opened up to me about their journey with mental health. I’ve reconnected with old friends and we have been closer because of that unspoken understanding. It’s awesome to have friendships that aren’t exhausting to maintain because we both get it.” — Erin W.

14.I’ve gotten mixed reactions ranging from others confiding in me that they, too, struggle… and then people disregarding my feelings and saying, ‘You’re just having a bad day.'” — Amber B.

15. “Some have been very supportive. People I barely know have become life lines. Sadly though, some I thought I could count on forever have completely disappeared and ignore my calls. It definitely is eye-opening.” — Rhonda M.

16. “Once I talked to friends, family, mentors they didn’t know how to act around me anymore, like something was awfully wrong with me. So a lot of people started to avoid me or was awkward around me.” — Nikki L.

17. “You find out the people who really love you. I was amazed how fast some people who were in my life left. Whether it was because they couldn’t deal, or were afraid, or whatever the reason, friends, some of which I’ve had for years became very sparse after the fact.” — Jeffrey C.

18.Support comes from unexpected sources, and *doesn’t* come from *expected* sources.” — Marie D.

19. “So many people say ‘that explains a lot’… that hurts more than they know. I am more than my illness and my emotions shouldn’t be cast aside as a symptom of my illness.” — Alyss S.

20. “It’s surprising to me that some people don’t believe it’s real, yet turn around and blame me for anything that ever goes wrong because I’m ‘crazy’…” — Diana K.

21. “People change. They start treating you differently. It’s as if you are a walking attraction, when all you want to be is yourself.” — Julie J.

22. “Been struggling with high-functioning depression. I’ve kept this secret forever. I finally told a friend of mine. She advised me to seek help — which I did. She asks me how I feel almost every day. This encourages me to open up to others and to serve as an advocate for mental health. I’m still not ready for it, but I know when I do, it will help others who may be struggling with mental health.” — Ernesto M.

23. “I find more support than I thought I deserve. I try to push my illness back, pretending that it’s not that big of a deal, but it is, and sooner or later I will be reminded of it. And people are so much more accepting of it, of me, than I have ever imagined.” — Alicja M.

24.I have a semicolon tattoo on my wrist and I have had total strangers come up to me and just ask me to talk with them for a few minutes while they center in a crowd, it’s a really awesome feeling to know that people feel comfortable approaching me even if they have no idea who I am because they know I won’t judge them.” — Amythest Am.

25. “There are so many others out there going through the same thing as myself and they don’t think I am crazy! Then there are others who I’ve known for a long time and they had never experienced anxiety before but out of the blue they started having it and they reach out to me for advice and guidance.” — Niki W.

26.Oddly enough I started to feel more alone, as if nobody cared or understood.” — Shayna K.

27. “As someone who is all too often told that my mental illness isn’t real, it’s always unexpected to have someone be supportive. The best, and most unexpected thing, is when someone finds out, and all they say is, ‘I’m here for you.'” — Kari O.

27 Unexpected Consequences of Opening Up About Your Mental Illness

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Why Mental Illness Makes It Easy to Measure My Self-Worth in Numbers

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I’ve spent years trying to quantify my life experiences. When I was confused and hurting, I turned to numbers for comfort. Numbers have always made me feel safe. They have made sense to me. For a while there, numbers kept me feeling safe and in control. At a certain point though, they starting hurting, not helping.

I think it’s normal to want to measure your self-worth with something. It can be so hard, because when you are confused, hurting and you just feel like you need validation — and you think you know what a “good” number is — it can be easy to convince yourself once you get to that number, you’ll be worth something. Whether this is the number on a scale, your GPA, the number of miles you were able to run last week or the number of extracurricular activities you are doing. Speaking from personal experience, none of these things will actually bring me happiness, even if I feel like they will.

The biggest thing I have been trying to teach myself lately is to abandon my love affair with numbers. Isn’t it more important to try the best I can at my assignments and recognize that’s all I can ask of myself? I’m trying not to let a drop in my GPA scare me or hurt me. I’m trying to realize if I go up a size in jeans, I’ll be OK. Because that number doesn’t define who I am. Nothing defines me except the way I treat people and how I respect myself.

The thing is, it’s not easy to make these changes in life. It’s not easy to change thought patterns or the way we measure self-worth. I hope we can all start noticing negative thoughts when they arise, recognizing that challenging these thoughts is the first step to becoming more comfortable with ourselves. I encourage us to ask ourselves why a certain number — be it a size, a GPA or anything else under the sun — is so important. Let’s ask ourselves what will really happen if we don’t attain this number. And remember, only we can define ourselves.

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Thinkstock photo via Pavels Sabelnikovs.

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17 Tweets That Get Real About Mental Illness Medication

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Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

Anyone who’s taken medication to manage a mental illness knows the process can be less than straightforward. In fact, sometimes the first medication you try isn’t right at all, and you’re forced to go through… a dreaded med change. For those who eventually find the right medication for them, this process is ultimately rewarding. For those who don’t, it’s frustrating. And overall, psychiatrists need to do a better job showing compassion for patients they’re putting through these med changes, which means being honest and clear about possible side effects, believing the person when they explain how they feel and seeing the person as more than the sum of their symptoms, but as a fellow human who wants to improve their overall quality of life.

We have a long way to go.

That’s why it’s important for people in the mental health community to open up about medication, and why #ThisIsWhatAnxietyLooksLike creator and Stigma Fighters CEO started the hashtag #ShoutOutYourMedChange. All last week people have been taking to Twitter and using the hashtag to a start dialogue about how different medications affected them.

It’s important to note that not everyone reacts to medication in the same way, so it’s not always wise to take anecdotes as gospel. But, hearing fellow medication-takers discuss how medication affected them can give you tools to talk to your own doctor, and will at the very least remind you you’re not alone if you can relate. You can see much more specific tweets about medication by checking out the #ShoutOutYourMedChange hashtag.

Here are some of our favorite conversation starters:

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6 Tips for Making Friends While Struggling With Mental Illness

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Mental illness is more common than most people think. Around one out of every five adults will deal with some form of mental illness in their lifetime. If you’re that one person, trying to make friends might seem about as appealing as pulling your teeth out, but a good group of friends can also be an invaluable support structure to help you through your darkest times. If you’re having trouble making friends, here are a few tips and tricks that might help you bring awesome new people into your life.

1. Love yourself.

It’s so much easier to get other people to love you if you take the time to love yourself first. It’s not as simple as it sounds, but it can help you make friends. You’ll also find if you feel better about yourself, it can make things easier to bear (though I’m not suggesting this is a cure for mental illness). Try focusing on your physical health, making a list of small goals or just doing something you enjoy every day.

2. Join a support group.

Mental health support groups can be a great place to make friends because you don’t have to worry about being judged for your mental illness. Usually, everyone in the group is going through a similar experience and is trying to find ways to reach out and connect with other people. Don’t feel like you have to stay with one support group just because it’s the first one you picked. Feel free to try a bunch until you find a group of people you mesh with.

3. Take a class.

You don’t have to go back to school for this trick. Find a class that offers something you’re interested in like cooking, sewing, painting, etc. These classes can be a great way to find people who have similar interests while doing something you enjoy. Plus, you can hone skills you already have and learn new skills at the same time.

4. Stay connected.

The trickiest part of making friendships that stick is staying connected. If you meet someone you’re interested in fostering a friendship with, get some contact details. Phone numbers, Twitter handles, Facebook details — the type of contact info doesn’t matter. The trick is to stay in touch so you can build the friendship up. People tend to think social media is isolating us because we’re all constantly staring at our phones, but recent studies have found the opposite is true. Facebook users, for example, have been found to have closer and stronger relationships than those who don’t use social media. Social media can also help you stay in touch with people who might live a bit further away.

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5. Ask for help.

If you’re seeing a therapist — or considering visiting one — mention to them you’re having trouble making friends. They’ll have a better understanding of your specific situation than any random “how-to” site, and they might be able to offer advice or tricks that might help you more because they’re catered to you. Therapists are there to help you, not to judge your friend-making skills, so don’t hesitate to ask for help if you have the option to do so.

6. Find someone who loves you for you.

Instead of worrying about judgment from friends, spend your time surrounding yourself with people who love you no matter what. You need friends who understand sometimes it’s hard for you to get out of bed, or sometimes you might have a ton of energy and other times you don’t. Just find someone who loves you for you. That’s the most important thing. If you decide later they need to know about your mental illness, that’s entirely up to you, but you don’t need to build your friendships on that.

Making and maintaining friendships might seem like an insurmountable hurdle when you’re struggling to just get out of bed in the morning, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to help you deal with your mental illness. Build up a good support network to help you through the hard times, and you’ll have an amazing group to help you celebrate all the good times as well.

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Thinkstock photo via criene.

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My Complicated Relationship With Mental Illness Recovery

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Recovery really isn’t as simple as it may seem from first glance. Having a mental illness is like being in an abusive relationship, but it is a relationship that you both equally loathe and love. You can become addicted to the distress it causes you, but without it you believe you would feel isolated and lost. You fear change and you fear the unknown and you can’t ever remember being deemed as “normal.” You don’t even known what “normal” is anymore, as you’re too consumed by the torturous comfort that being in the relationship gives you. In many ways, the more you walk away from the relationship, the more you want to stay, but deep down you know it’s causing you more harm than good. You never decided to begin the relationship in the first instance, you may have no idea how it came about, but at the very least you can be the one who decides to end it.

However, breaking up the relationship means you have to leave your “safe place” for a long time until you eventually find another one. But what if? This is the question that has a million answers… But what if you still don’t feel safe and you still miss being in the relationship because what feels “normal” for many other people, does not feel “normal” for you? But what if it all goes wrong and you never end up being free from the relationship? But what if you can honestly never see this all ending? Unlike some conditions, there is no magical tablet that can fix all the issues. It has taken you this long to become this unwell, and it is most likely going to take you even longer to recover. Recovery is different for every mental illness and is unique to every individual. However, the question is, what does recovery look like? What do you want from recovery? Why do you want to recover? Trying to explain to a family member, a friend or even a complete stranger how both mentally and physically hard recovery can be is virtually next to impossible. Imagine trying to throw yourself full force into the exact opposite direction, mindset and lifestyle you are used to, and the most difficult thing within all of this is the challenge of trying to want to stay there and not relapse.

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Denial… “I’m fine” is the statement of the century. You feel as if you are in full control and can stop whenever you please, but this isn’t the truth. You are not in control, instead you are being controlled. You believe all in all being in the relationship is helping you, not hurting you. You finally have control over things in your life and you are convinced that things are fine. Although inside you feel utterly terrified by the thought of letting your mental illness go, without it, who are you? When you try to pull away, it tries to grip you even harder, when you consider recovery, it gives you a list of reason of why you can’t ever recover. You need it in your life, after all, it is your life.

You didn’t always have an eating disorder, you didn’t always have anxiety, depression or body dysmorphic disorder. You didn’t always have borderline personality disorder. Your life didn’t always used to be like this! You can recover and you will. Things can change and eventually you will grow stronger than the demons in your head, your voice will be even louder and you will scream right back at it. You are not your illness, you have a name, a history and you were given this life for a reason.

Recovery… It will be challenging, it will also be worth it. You will relapse and that is OK. You may feel alone in your struggles, but you will be able to help others who are struggling. Your loved one may not always understand, but you can try you best to explain. You will have good days and bad days, but in time the bad days will get fewer. Your problems won’t magically disappear, but they will become more manageable. You might not feel different at first, but when you have finally won the battle that is going on inside your head you will be happier, healthier, stronger and recovered. This is why you need to keep on fighting.

Many say you will never be truly recovered from any mental illness. This is a fair statement, you can be in recovery for the rest of your life. There will be many triggers, slips and setbacks and times when you want to sprint right back to where you started, back to the welcoming arms of your illness. Yet you need to remember the pain it causes you and you need to remember that it takes your whole life away from you. It is nothing but a nasty monster that wants to drag you down and make your life a living hell. You do not need it anymore, you have yourself, your amazing, brilliant, fantastic self, and that is more than enough.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via Veleri

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The Song That Helps Me Forgive People Who Didn't Help Me Face My Mental Illness

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The song Tassez vous de d’là” from the Québec band Les Colocs helps me understand how difficult it can be to support a loved one with a mental illness. The song goes like this (my translation):

Move out of the way I need to see my friend
I haven’t seen him in a while
He was gone he wasn’t there
Last time I saw him
His heart was badly turned
His head was in a vice he didn’t look pretty

He had cocaine in his eyes
He had heroine in his blood
His whole body was leaning forward
He wanted to puke
He wanted to die
What does one do in this situation?
I wanted to run away

I left him alone on the edge of a catastrophe
Forgive me, forgive me
I didn’t mean it I didn’t mean it
I didn’t mean to abandon you in the roughest moment
I am the weakest of the weak
Not the toughest of the tough

(singing in an African language from Senegal)

I’m making my way though the crowd
Hoping for one thing, to see your face
Or to hear you scream
With your immense voice and your exploding heart
Help me, help me

I’m making my way though the crowd
Hoping for one thing, to see your face
Or to hear you scream:
I’ve had enough but it’s not yet an overdose
Help me, help me

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These words get to me because though I have heard this song a million times since I was a child (it came out in 1998) I never realized the depth of the lyrics. The person feeling bad is not the one abusing drugs, but the one who should have helped but didn’t. Through my struggle with mental illness a lot of people could have done things differently, but instead of resenting them, I should rememberer they are only human.

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Thinkstock photo via SergeKa

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