I like sharing how I’m feeling with others. I know some people are uncomfortable even sharing their feelings with themselves, but I’m all about being open. As far as I’m concerned, the better you can understand what’s going on for me internally, the better we can get along. And that includes the tough stuff.
Hiding my depression, I feel, doesn’t help you or me. If I start acting “weird” or not like my “usual self,” I want you to have the tools to understand why that might be. Not to mention, I’d tear down the mental illness stigma single-handedly if I could. And I think that if every person who struggled with their mental health could be more comfortable being open about it, we’d be able to bring that wall down brick by brick.
Obviously there are some situations and relationships that are better than others when it comes to talking about mental health.
It’s not going to be the first thing I tell someone when I meet them, but I’m not going to hide it as I get to know them. Why? Because it’s a part of what makes me me. If it comes up, like any other aspect of who I am, I’ll mention it. Am I going to bring it up in a job interview? No. But I may not hesitate to mention it as I settle into my workplace. Sometimes I need to work from home because being with anyone but myself feels too hard that day. And every week I leave early to go to my therapy appointment, and that’s something my coworkers know about.
I am fortunate enough to work on a team where this will not subject me to discrimination, but I know some people can’t even use their company insurance to see a mental health professional for fear of being discriminated against. If that is your situation, then I am sorry, firstly. And secondly, I hope you at least have other areas of your life where you are safe to share your mental illness.
Your first priority is your safety. If your safety requires that you not share these details, then of course it is good to keep them private. But the opposite can also be true—if your safety requires that you are open, then seek the help and support you need.
For the purpose of this post, I will encourage you to be open in situations where you are safe to do so.
Being Open with Your Loved Ones
I think for many people, the area of their life where they may face the most obstacles in trying to share is with their family. Families are filled with lots of different types of personalities, and unlike friend groups, those personalities don’t really have to go together in order for them to stick together. So when dealing with personal things, it can be hard to navigate who will receive things well and who won’t.
Only in the last year or so have I stopped being so hesitant to share my experiences with anyone in my family if it comes up. I come from a family that has a good amount of mental illness but doesn’t like to talk about it. Unfortunately for them, I don’t fit that mold.
My Experience with Mental Health and My Family
I spent most of my time growing up trying to be the perfect child to evade criticism from members of my extended family, and I’m just all out of cares (I’m sure you can imagine that there’s another word I’d like to use here) to give about it. Trying to make myself appear as even and together as possible got me nowhere and just wasted a ton of energy I didn’t really have to give.
I used to think that I hadn’t experienced depression until I was 19, but now that I know what it looks like, I know that I’ve experienced depression symptoms since I was a young child. And to think that I suppressed what I was struggling with for that long really grinds my gears. But I’m glad that I’ve become angry about it. Because it has been an excellent motivator for me to be vocal about these issues.
So I will bring up my therapist at dinner. I will talk about things that happened to me when I was in my worst place. I will surmise about how most of our family deals with mental health issues that have gone unaddressed. Because for me, there is no shame. Why on earth should I be shameful that I just work differently than other people? You can’t make me feel ashamed for some chemicals in my brain. I won’t let you. So I’m going to talk about it even if it makes you uncomfortable.
Being Open About My Mental Health Online
Being vocal about my mental health on the internet has been much easier for me than talking about it with my family. I think of it this way: anyone who doesn’t want to listen doesn’t have to. But there are tons of people out there who aren’t brave enough to say the things I say and maybe they need to see someone they know have the courage to say it.
Maybe that can help them feel less alone. Maybe they can start to learn that there is no need for shame. Maybe they can gradually build up the courage to start their own conversations.
I want to be the voice I wish I could’ve heard, and I want other people like me to know that being openly yourself—your struggling self—is a beautiful experience.
How You Can Work Towards Being Open Too
Here are some tips for becoming more comfortable with sharing your mental health challenges.
Identify Your Supporters
Your supporters, or people who you think will react positively to you sharing things with them, are a great group to go to first. They will not only help to bolster your confidence in sharing, but these types of conversations could also strengthen your relationship with them.
Know Your Stuff
If you feel like you need a boost before you’re ready to bring up your mental health in front of others, learn more about the things you struggle with. Know what experts are researching, know what treatment can look like, and most of all, know yourself. Reflect on what your own experience has been, because that’s something that no one can ever tell you is wrong.
Get Into the Right Mindset
It can be intimidating to start talking about your mental health. To help yourself be comfortable, it’s good to have the right mindset. Try writing down some reasons why discussing it is important to you. Do you think it will help your loved ones understand you? Do you think it could be healing? Do you want to normalize your struggles?
No matter who you talk to and why you talk to them, take note of the empowering or relieving qualities that being open about your mental health may have for you. Getting comfortable can take a while, but it may be a journey worth pursuing.
Have you ever tried to be open about your mental health? What was your experience like?