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You and I Have a Right to Speak Openly About Mental Illness

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

If you’re struggling with self-judgment, check out The Mighty’s No Shame group. It’s a safe space to share how you’re feeling with other people who get it.

Through the course of my life, I have been shamed for sharing my emotions.

As a child when I was sad or crying, my abuser would tell me I was manipulative and attention-seeking and encourage others to ignore me. If I was happy or excited, I was told I was annoying or loud so I was yelled at to be quiet.

It seemed that any emotion I ever tried to express was wrong so, after a while, I learned to stop trying. I bottled up my emotions until I was alone and would cry myself to sleep at night, but to the outside world, everything seemed fine. The history of my suicide attempts, eating disorders and patterns of self-harm still shock my family and friends because I can be very good at covering up my pain.

I used to be proud of how good I was at hiding. When someone would smile at me or hug me or seem pleased with me at all, I would feel happy that I had put on a good show for them. I would hide my scarred ankles and grumbling stomach and tell myself that if they really knew the truth, they wouldn’t like me, or they wouldn’t understand.

Fear of being ridiculed or hated because of my depression has kept me quiet for years. It is only within the past year or so that I have truly begun to open up, to my inner circle and to the world, about my mental health struggles.

The first time I shared something publicly about my experience with mental illness, I expected someone to yell at me and tell me how “sick” I was. My heart was beating out of my chest with fear that I would be misunderstood and yet, so many positive comments and interactions resulted from my story that I kept sharing bits and pieces as I felt comfortable.

Not everyone was receptive, unfortunately. Being public about my struggles has resulted in some difficult situations for me. I have been discriminated against at a previous job, my boss suddenly treating me differently after seeing an article I wrote about suicide prevention.

When discussing sensitive topics with people in person, I have been insulted, dismissed and flat-out ignored. I am seen as “dramatic” or “overly sensitive” when attempting to express my needs or set boundaries.

It has taken me years to be able to express my true feelings and thoughts about things and it is not easy for me to do so. I still worry about being hated, I still do face criticism from someone for something.

No matter what my emotion, how kind I try to be or how eloquent I am when expressing myself, there will always be people who do not understand, who try to silence me, who find my voice distasteful. I will never stop.

Sharing your emotions is healthy to do, and I will not apologize for demanding respect or dignity. There will always be naysayers and critics who do not approve and the best that I can do is to continue to fight for my right to be heard.

I have a right to my feelings and so do you, and so does every single person who has ever been silenced or shamed.

Photo by Esther Driehaus on Unsplash

Originally published: June 3, 2020
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