So, one of my Facebook buddies I’ve known since the 7th grade sent me a message the other day and said this:
“And you are so easy to support. You just put it out there!! You never ask or demand, and you have this thing with honest reflection of the places and moments that make you whole. I thought I was the only one with questions attached to things like joys and regrets.”
I loved getting this and it showed me that opening up on this blog really is helpful to others. We all have our challenges…our burdens…and to write about them and share them maybe helps to distribute that weight a little more easily, or eases the heaviness on some on our shoulders.
When you hear the phrase ‘coming out’, you think of those who have revealed to their family, friends and colleagues about their sexual orientation or gender identity. And that’s a wonderful thing! For so long, members of the LGBTQ community were forced into ‘hiding’ so to speak. To talk about their orientation was societal suicide and often still is. They can lose family and friends, be fired from jobs or denied promotions, be denied housing or custody of their children, be a victim of a hate crime, be an outcast in a neighborhood or community and the list goes on.
What’s so sad to me is that even though things have ‘gotten better’ more than 50% of LGBTQ have faced discrimination in just the last year, and even more frightening is there’s no federal law against this (Center for American Progress, May 2nd, 2017). What the hell?
The term ‘coming out’ regarding the mentally ill is similar. Like the LGBTQ community, there’s a lot to lose and a lot of discrimination tied to having a mental illness: housing, health care costs, work issues (yeppers), criminal justice issues (receiving longer sentences, etc.), loss of friends and difference in treatment among colleagues (been to that freaking rodeo) to name a few (National Alliance on Mental Illness, March 11th, 2020).
So why did I do it? Why do any of us do it, regardless of the issue we’re coming out for? Because it’s not only hard to fake your way through life, it’s simply not fair. Pushing down who you are to pretend to be who you’re not is exhausting, and shameful to the person. You aren’t ‘good’ enough…’normal’ enough…’right’ enough to be fully accepted in our society, and feeling that way leads to self-stigmatization as well. It also impedes seeking help/recovery and following through with it, as well as asking for support from others which leads to more feelings of low self-worth. In other words, your ‘person’ is thwarted and you feel less than.
Of course my family knew about me being bipolar and so many of them were supportive and accepting of the mentally ill ‘me’ which was such a relief and validated my worth. I also share with my students, when it’s appropriate and in the context of what we are studying. When I teach about mental illness, if I can’t talk about something I have openly, how can my students believe my lecture in which I state there needs to be acceptance of those with mental illness, education about the various illnesses, and a real effort to end the stigmatization of this population (which is quite large, by the way). If I can’t talk about being bipolar without shame and share my experiences, everything I teach them is a lie.
But there have been consequences for ‘coming out’ too. Colleagues look at me differently. Some are so supportive and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Others have told me that it’s all in my head (hence the title of this blog!) and if I just got off those meds and kept a positive attitude, I’d be fine (oooookkkkkaaaayyyyy). A couple told me to ‘pray it away’ (what the fuck? I believe I was given this for a reason, peeps…and I would prefer these particular people pray away their ignorance instead). I think the worst I’ve experienced at work was when I was having a very serious issue with a student at the same time of my mental breakdown and when I was at the bottom of the most serious depression I’ve ever had. I was treated horribly (after 23 years of perfect service) and my mental state was obvious. This was used against me as proof I was the cause of the stalking and direct, written threats I received. I couldn’t fight it. My illness was too strong right then.
How transparent should I be though? Should I share everything? My sissy and I were yacking about it last night (after I admired her highlights…they freaking rock), and she said I wasn’t being honest when I didn’t share everything going on in my life. And she’s right. I promised candor, but I realized there are some things I just can’t do that with. I have my secrets…and I think we all do. If I share every piece of me, what’s left that’s just mine? It’s kinda like when sis and I would go trick-or-treating and take a look-see at our candy after. I’d keep some of my treats hidden from her (I’m sorry T…I’ll buy you some Reeses peanut butter cups to make up for it) because I wanted those all for myself. Likewise, it’s not always easy to be completely transparent. Accountable. And like all of us, it’s just too hard to be ‘out there’ all of the time. I guess I just need to keep some of my ‘me’ inside too.
I know my ‘coming out’ has helped people, and that quote at the beginning is only one of scores I’ve received. Every time I hear that I’ve encouraged others to lessen their shame of having a mental illness and assured them it’s absolutely no fault of their own, I feel justified in this openness. Is it worth the negatives? You betcha.
Like I’ve said in previous posts, ‘coming out’ has freed me. Removed so many of the masks I was hiding behind. Helped me to live more authentically which has bolstered my self-confidence and worth. It ain’t always easy doing this, and it ain’t always everything in my life that I put out there. But it’s real. Something I wish we could all be, no matter what it is we’re struggling with.