Last week I wrote about my constant struggle with my mental health issues (ADD & depression – diagnosed; anxious personality) and my reluctant return to therapy.
Writing it was hard. Those aren’t easy, simple or pleasant emotions to unravel. Posting it to Facebook? Excruciating. I was ashamed, and I feared people’s reactions.
Feared their contempt for being:
- Vulgar. Airing my dirty laundry in public. Ew.
- Dramatic. Happiness is a choice, obviously. With my life, wtf is my problem thinking I have the right to be discontent. There are children being gassed in Syria, you know. THEY should be sad.
- Lesser. Mental health is icky. Only weak people have mental problems.
- Incompetent. The disappointment to my close friends and family that I still don’t have my shit together like I should, that I still underperform, that my inability to do regular adulting activities with consistency causes problems for others, professionally and personally.
- Crazy. Any emotion, reaction, opinion that doesn’t coincide with theirs is obviously the result of my unregulated mind, and should therefore be discounted. Vanilla is crazy – don’t listen to her.
My coworkers, both above and below me on the corporate ladder, read my blog – would I lose their respect? “I’m not sure we should consider Vanilla for that promotion, her mental health is too fragile.” Boys I’ve dated, boys I have crushes on, boys who might one day date me, read my blog – would they find me less of a woman? “She’s cool and sexy, but I dunno man. All that mental health shit. No, thank you!”
Knowing that yes, it is quite possible I will suffer consequences for posting this, makes me mad. I refuse to let myself drown in self-imposed shame. I feel compelled to write about this, own it, and post it publicly. The ONLY way to get rid of the shame – so unnecessary, so poisonous, so destructive – surrounding mental health IS by talking about it. And if my approach is too brash, well… hopefully I’ll polish it over time, which can only happen if I take chances and try this open approach.
Record number of likes on Facebook. People reaching out to me privately, to commiserate with the incredible burden that is the shame associated with mental health struggles. To ask me more questions because having read my blog they wonder if they/their child/sibling/parent/best friend might have X health issue, they never considered that as a possibility, they’ll approach the struggles differently, with greater empathy and understanding. To say they too have Y mental health issue. To compare resources they’ve used. To thank me – they feel less alone in their struggles; they always thought I was one of those ppl, “so happy and smiling and friendly, fit, has her shit together”. They realize now that no, I just have (mostly) mastered the art of faking it, at huge personal cost.
A few days after my post, Prince Harry made the news for admitting he’d been in therapy for the long-standing, serious repercussions stemming from his inability to process his grief following his mother’s death. Anxiety, aggression, all had negative impacts on his royal duties, and professional and personal relationships, and culminated in him seeking professional help to work through his issues. (*)
Even at royal engagements, he said, he had found himself battling a “flight or fight” reaction without properly
understanding why. Once he started opening up to friends, he added, he found those same friends felt able to “unravel their own issues”. (…)
“I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is that it’s only ever going to make it worse,” he said.
I told my CFO-boss. I wanted to warn him that I’d recognized the blips in my performance, and I was taking steps to rectify them before they further deteriorated. Was that the right thing to do? I dunno. It was risky. I’ll find out the next time I am up for a promotion if it paid off.
As for boys… I tell myself, the blog doesn’t really make a difference – they’d find out first-hand about my emotional messiness anyhow, live. Best they find out via the blog and move on, than find out gradually and make those hurtful comments to my face.
I don’t have the energy to pretend anymore. I don’t see the point. Life, adulting, is fucking hard enough without pretence.
None of us should feel ashamed for our struggles.
Sometimes, silence is overrated.
(*) Check out their Royal Highnesses‘ work on mental health, through their charity Heads Together. I think it is brilliant.