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Why I'm Throwing Away the Mask I Wore to Hide My Mental Illnesses

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The opportunity presents itself: I’m at work completing some mindless task while two co-workers/friends talk within earshot. I do not know what started them on the topic of depression, but someone is oblivious to the reality and prevalence of this disorder. She expresses disgust for people who claimed to be depressed and take medication. She believes they could be happy if they only tried a little harder. Sadness (or happiness) is a choice. “Think positive!” “Everyone gets sad.” “Get over yourself.”

My other friend looks at me as if to check my reaction. She and I were closer and still are today. I had confided in her about the difficulties I struggled with related to my diagnosis at that time, major depressive disorder. She gave a muted response to the other’s statements and beliefs. She did not challenge them and nor did I. I looked back at my task, and I felt deep disappointment and sorrow. This disappointment was not directed at my friends, but at myself for not speaking up and trying to educate and fight the stigma. I knew in that moment taking the risk of revealing my disorder or even my opinion was greater than any reward I could imagine. Little did I know that the reward was an illusion, a false trade-off.

The damage: Over the years, my continued secrecy and my stubborn belief that “come hell or high water” I could and would function just like everyone else, or at least, those that weren’t also in hiding, became more damaging than having frank discussions about mental disorders. I did not know how the shame and guilt would multiply and complicate my recovery.

The realization: Since then, I have told more people about my experience with it, but I still guard my public identity. I worry that a potential employer will find any of my online “confessions” and decide to not hire me. Occasionally, it occurs to me that if they did hire me, I would be subjecting myself to a toxic environment where I would continue to hide in shame. And then the fear comes back.

The commitment to honor my story: When I joined The Mighty’s community, I decided to use my first initial and last name only. When will I learn my story is something to be proud of? I keep beating the odds. I keep fighting, dragging myself through treacherous territories. My smiles are genuine and my laugh heartier since I stepped out into the sunlight. I have gained a huge amount of insight into the human condition and with that, compassion. I have found people who truly understand and accept me, warts and all. They not only accept me, they sincerely care and are not afraid to have tough conversations.

Maybe today is the day I throw away the mask and breathe in my freedom.

My advice to others who are in hiding is simple. When you weigh the risks and rewards of openly acknowledging you have any stigmatizing disorders, factor in the long-term losses, the fine print and the hidden costs of carrying shame with you day after day after day. It wears on you. I believe it is a large contributor to the disorders’ expression and a detractor from recovery. It is your decision to make — if you are not ready to share this part of yourself, it’s OK.

As I write this, I am tallying the costs. I am deep in the red, and there is only one way I see to put me in the green. Hello. My name is Dana Farmer, and I have a loving family, true friends, furry companions and oh, I have brain disorders. You might have heard of them? Major depressive depression? Generalized anxiety disorder? Attention deficit disorder? Post-traumatic stress disorder? I might have missed one or some, but, hey, who’s counting?

It is a pleasure to finally meet you. Do you have any questions? Let’s talk.

Getty image via frimages

Originally published: February 26, 2019
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