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Why I Hide My Mental Illness Behind My Physical Illness

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Most people know I’m sick. I have gastroparesis and severe post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and just have a generally terrible time with food of any kind. That takes up a massive part of my life. But there’s more to it.

I’ve never been the most emotionally stable person. When my body started to break down, so too did my mental health. It started with alcohol-induced panic attacks and grew to quite severe generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder. I’m open with close friends about this, but for the most part, I keep it quiet. If I’m in a situation when I have to talk about my health, I just talk about my stomach. It has always seemed much easier to talk about than mental health. But why?

I don’t believe mental illness is anything to be ashamed of. I’m actually really proud of how I’ve managed my mental illness. But I don’t like sharing because I’m worried other people just don’t really get it.

It’s easy to talk to other people who struggle with mental health. They can empathize because they’ve been through something similar. But when it comes to friends and family, I find it hard to believe they really know much beyond the stereotypes of mental illness. And maybe this is unfair. They’re really done nothing to lose my trust. But without experience with a mental illness, I worry all they know about mental illness is what they’ve learned from society and media, which can be pretty off the mark. I do believe mental illness awareness and acceptance is improving, but I think there’s still a long way to go.

I’m looking forward to seeing a world with less and less mental illness stigma. But until then, perhaps people like me can make a difference. We can take a step out of our comfort zones and talk about our mental illness. This could normalize mental illness, and help others begin to understand. Mental illness is just as important as physical illness and everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. So I’m going to stop hiding behind my physical illness and get the conversation about mental health started. Will you?

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

Originally published: August 14, 2018
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