How Speaking About My Mental Illnesses Became My Strength
In today’s society having a mental illness is still a taboo subject even though a good portion of the population deals with some form of mental illness. In fact 1 in 4 will experience some form of mental disorder in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization. With such a high number of people affected by mental illness, one would think it’d be more widely talked about.
I had always been under the impression that mental illness made me a damaged person and that I should be ashamed I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar II disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychosis. My own family does not want to talk about my mental illness, nor do they want to acknowledge that I am disabled due to mental illness. I quickly found out that living with a secret causes so much anxiety because you are always worried that someone will find out and if someone finds out, you are ruined. That isn’t the case though.
I have made a lot of progress with my mental illness in the past five years. Many of my mental health providers told me I could really help people by telling my story and showing that recovery is possible. That all seemed well and good in theory, but that meant I had to share my private struggles with people who would most likely judge me. I was anxious and afraid, but I decided if I could help just one person by telling my story and give them hope, then telling my story was worthwhile. I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do it or when, but I knew that staying silent added to the stigma surrounding mental illness and staying silent continued to give more power to my mental illness. I wanted so desperately to escape the cycle of anxiety that hiding my mental illness caused, but I also didn’t want people to judge and shun me. It was quite the dilemma.
Ultimately I decided the best way to go about sharing my mental illness was to just tell one person at a time and see how they reacted to it. I had recently acquired quite a few friends due to getting involved in the community by volunteering, which my therapist had suggested. I picked a friend and mentioned that I had a mental illness, but didn’t exactly mention what it was. I thought having people know I had mental illness would suffice, but that just left people with questions.
I finally said my diagnoses out loud to a friend who asked exactly what kind of mental illness I dealt with. It was terrifying, but much to my surprise, my friend was really supportive. She asked more questions about it, and I became more comfortable with each sentence I spoke. I felt relief, and I felt good about myself which was contrary to what I originally thought would happen. I decided to tell more of my friends, and I got nothing but support and acceptance by telling my story. It gave me this amazing feeling of peace because the anxiety of hiding myself was gone. I decided not to stop at just telling my close friends.
Pretty soon I started posting about my mental illness on Facebook. I would post what my diagnoses were, and I would regularly post links to articles and discuss how they related to what I experience. I even took it a step further and started sharing what it felt like to have my mental illnesses and different experiences that I have with it. I described what it was like to have abandonment issues and mistrust because of the distorted black and white thinking I experience with BPD. I described what hypomania feels like to me in detail. I described what my depression feels like to me. I described how PTSD affects my responses to certain things and what it’s like to be triggered by something that most people don’t give second thoughts to. I described what an episode of psychosis I experience looks like and how I feel during those episodes. Describing disassociation was a challenge, but I managed to describe it in a way that was easily understood. I talked about self-harm and my history with it. I talked about my history with suicide ideation to some detail, and I offered to talk with anyone that had thoughts of harming themselves in any way. I’ve made it a point to add to each post I’m always available to talk.
I have actually had people reach out to me in private messages on Facebook to discuss their mental health and the mental health of people they care for. Having someone reach out to me because of what I posted about my mental illnesses was such an incredible experience, and it gave me this incredible feeling that I was making a difference in the world. I’ve gotten nothing but support from everyone who has heard my story, and I’ve sort of become this mental health advocate in my community just by opening up to people. People often remark that my openness and honesty is refreshing and much needed to bring attention to mental illness. Having a mental illness is a challenge, and oftentimes talking about it openly and candidly is even more challenging. Once you get past that initial societal stigma and doubt though, you can really make a difference with your story.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.
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Thinkstock photo via tixti