Don’t Talk About Your Mental Illness Online...Right?

Published on 9/30/2020

I never used to talk about my mental illness. It was on my mind almost every minute of the day, how could it not be? And yet, it remained absent from my conversations. After a lot of work and courage, I managed to mention it to a few friends, and I started opening to therapists. It was still few and far between, but I was trying to open up more. But then someone close to me gave me this warning:

Careful who you mention it to, as you don’t want to be known for it.

It’s good advice. It’s well-intentioned. Right?

Here’s the thing, even if advice is given with good intentions, that does not make it good advice. But I didn’t know that yet. And so I continued to hide this large part of myself. Because even though my mental illness was not the most important thing about me, it was a large chunk of who I was. My depression started at the age of fifteen; when you’re trying to work out your identity and grow into the adult you’ll become. But I couldn’t, as I wrapped around the finger of a personality disorder. And now that I am becoming who I am, I can see that a large part of that person is due to my mental illness. It made me a fighter; it made me work hard for things, as even being happy was a chore. It made me empathetic and open to others. Yet all of this had to be hidden away, only surfacing in the novels I wrote but would never share.

But I wanted to start a blog. I wanted to have people read my words. I wanted to make sense of the constant barrage within my mind. I wanted to teach others about mental illness, but also push myself to learn more. So I started a blog. I called it ‘Symptoms of Living’, as I genuinely believe that we all have our symptoms of living. For too many of us, that’s a mental illness. For others, it is poor mental health or periods of it. And for others, it is whatever struggle finds their path. We all have our symptoms of living in this crazy world. I bought the domain name, a friend developed the code, and I wrote posts in a Google Doc. But I didn’t post anything. Then when I finally did, I didn’t share the posts.

What was holding me back?

Those words were stuck in my mind. I itched to share my hard work, but every time I held myself back. I was my own anchor time and time again. So I sat down, and I with a piece of paper before me, I tried to discover what I was so scared of:

1. That people would find out about my mental illness. Not everyone in my life knows, particularly those from my past. It’s almost ironic that the people present for the worst of it know the least. I fear distorting their memory of me through the truth of what I was going through at the time, the lengths to which I was torturing myself. I fear people of the present knowing and treating me differently.

2. That people wouldn’t believe me. It sounds so ridiculous to say out loud, but I fear people thinking I made it up, that I don’t qualify for mental illness. I needed a therapist to properly diagnose me even to believe that I deserved to say I have depression. My depression isn’t in her DSM diagnosis; it is in the traits and symptoms that haunted me for years. I fear people seeing my blog post and saying that I’m lying, that I’m trying to get attention.

3. That current or future employers will see. This one still scares me. Everyone at my job knows me very differently to how those closest to me do. I don’t discuss my mental illness there, but by doing that, am I participating in the stigma? I try to tell myself that I’ll be a writer and that mental illness won’t hold me back in that department. But doubt does creep in, the idea that a quick Google search will discredit me in seconds. As if I’m admitting to crimes or posting inebriated videos of myself, rather than sharing my honest experience with something millions of people go through.

4. You can’t take it back. As a millennial, I’ve heard that since high school. When you put something out there, you can’t take it back. Photos, words, you name it. How often do we see celebrities shamed for a twitter post they made before they were famous, or a nude photo they had the audacity to take of themselves? We live in a society fixated on your mistakes, waiting patiently for that slip-up. Will these words be mine?

5. Hurting people close to me. Everyone makes mistakes. I want to share my honest experience, the things that have happened to me, but I don’t intend to use this to hold certain people accountable for something they once said, or a way they impacted me. Sharing my truth is not about undermining someone else’s nor playing a game of blame.

Careful who you mention it to, as you don’t want to be known for it.

But what if I do? It’s an awful thing, something I should never admit. But still, it rings true. I want to be a writer with every fibre of my being, and in my writing, I want to talk about what I’ve experienced, what makes me the person that I am today. I want to write about mental health to remind someone that they’re not the only one; they’re no crazier than I am. I want to normalise mental health to the point that you don’t have to be careful to mention it. And how can I reach this beautiful point where it is okay to speak about it without doing precisely that? I want to be known for talking about mental health, as much as it scares me because someone has to. And if we each take this responsibility, we clear the rubble for someone else to join us.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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Ⓒ 2020 - Symptoms of Living