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Being Honest About My 'Deepest, Darkest Secret’ Set Me Free

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You know how when you’re having a bad day for seemingly no reason at all, people try to give you advice like, “Snap out of it,” “Look at all your blessings,” or “Look at that beautiful cloud shaped like a child running after a ball.” As if you are supposed to magically consider one of these absurdities and all your anger and sadness will just evaporate into the air. Hey, maybe they’ll become part of the cloud montage that you’ll look at as you lay in the grass, watching the sky, contemplating just how magical your life is. Perhaps, you’ll wonder why in the world you ever thought you had the right to feel sad or have a bad day.

The thing is, mental illness can be so isolating. It constantly lies to you, telling you how alone you are, how broken you are and how undeserving of anything good you are. Depression is great at this. It’s constantly telling me lies all the livelong day. Add to it anxiety, and it’s like a sad emo song on repeat in my head. Maybe it’s more like an angry punk song full of angst, anger and hate. I guess it depends on the day.

The things is, when I choose to acknowledge it, to say it out loud and stop feeling so guilty for feeling how I feel, it somehow loses its power. Not all of its power of course, because most days it’s a ferocious beast that constantly torments me. However, little by little, it gets easier for me to tell it to shut the h*ll up.

When I first started being honest about my mental illness, my mood swings and my anxiety, it felt terrifying. It was as if I was revealing some deep, dark secret and everyone I knew would judge me and run screaming from me like a mass exodus after an anthrax scare. However, the thing is, no one judged me.

Yesterday, I woke up cranky for no reason. Well OK, there were reasons or better yet, there were triggers. These triggers were things that were making me feel anxious, worried or stressed. I was a total crank monster. I told my girlfriend, as I grumbled into the kitchen searching for coffee like a zombie from “Walking Dead,” “I’m cranky today.” I tried to say it in a semi-cute kindergarten voice, to somehow lessen its impact, but it came out as more of a growl.

As I got ready for my day, I made the choice not to try and talk myself out of my cranky mood. I didn’t tell myself to be thankful that I woke up today, to look at how cute my dog is or other such nonsense that never helps anyway but only seems to make me feel more guilty. I just felt cranky.

When my girlfriend gave me a kiss goodbye, she didn’t tell me it was going to be OK, to cheer up or to calm down. She didn’t tell me to be excited for the day, to change my attitude or to snap out of it. She said, “You will get through today, and then, you can come home.” It was the most freeing thing ever. Like somehow by letting her know I was feeling cranky, I gave myself permission to feel how I felt. Since I didn’t take it out on her, I didn’t make it her fault or find some reason to pick a fight, she said exactly what I needed to hear and encouraged me to just survive today. That’s the beautiful thing when you express how you feel, you don’t feel so trapped.

There are days that are just bad. There are moments in the day that overwhelm you and make you anxious, angry or sad. Sometimes, there are days where you wake up hating everything. Sometimes, those days are just days. Sometimes, there is stress or circumstance causing these feelings, but they are just days.

Having days like this when you deal with mental illness can be daunting. You are evaluating your mood, your anxiety level, checking to see if you’ve taken your medication, fighting the negative thoughts and attempting to practice good self-care. As the awareness sets in that your mood has changed, the guilt kicks in. Angry thoughts come at you from every corner that say, “You deserve this,” “This is who you are,” “There is no recovery and no hope,” and “How could you possibly think you deserve to feel good?”

Speaking out about what I was experiencing became the most powerful and empowering thing I have ever done. I am continuing to learn about boundaries, how to respect other people’s needs and how important effective communication is. But I am free. Free from the guilt, from the shame, from the powerlessness that comes from having a secret. Hiding it only made my life worse.

Honestly, I never thought the thing that would set me free would be my deepest, darkest secret. The place where all my shame lived, the place inside me where the guilt kept me trapped, that is the place where all my power lives.

I have released it, and now there is a different kind of monster in its place. One who is a warrior, a fighter and a survivor. One who will continue to learn, to process and communicate. One who refuses to be silenced by stigma and in this, there is so much power. Sometimes, you just have to feel your feelings.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: October 13, 2016
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