I’m a librarian. I enjoy baking, sewing, and reading. I’m the author of one poetry book. I have a story about the scar on my right ring finger.
Also, I take Paxil and Abilify to manage social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. There was a time when my anxiety was so bad, that I would have a panic attack everyday before driving home from work. There was a time when I was non-verbal due to my severe social anxiety. Today, with the help of medication and therapy, I’m able to speak clearly, have a conversation with you, drive on the interstate, and go an entire day without heart palpitations–things I wasn’t able to do before due to my untreated anxiety disorder.
So why am I telling you all of this? Because, whether people are comfortable with it or not, my mental health is a large part of who I am and impacted a large portion of my life and the person I am today. Because there was a time when I wasn’t able to do this with confidence due to the stigma of discussing mental illness. Because I hope to encourage people who are also considering coming out of the mental illness closet, but may be holding back due to worries of what other people will think of them.
Coming out of the mental illness closet wasn’t easy and can still have its challenges. But there are a few things to remember when you decide to open up about your mental health.
Start off by coming out to someone you trust
Coming out of the mental illness closet can be a big deal and even a scary one, especially when you consider that not everyone is understanding or accepting of mental illness. That’s why it’s important to start off with someone you can trust–a close friend, a family member, a significant other, or anyone that you know will be supportive of you and your mental health condition.
There are no rules to “coming out”; do what makes you comfortable. You can be as formal or informal as you like. You can make it a big announcement at the dinner table or you can simply mention your anxiety or depression during a casual conversation and go from there. How you decide to share information about your mental health is all up to you. Just be sure that person you open up to is non-judgmental and fully supportive of what you’re going through.
Not everyone will be accepting of your mental illness–and that’s okay
When it comes to mental health, we’ve really come a long way. More and more people are seeking help for their mental health or starting a conversation about mental illness, and both instances are due to the fact that social stigma surrounding mental illness is no longer as strong as it used to be. Slowly but surely, the days of seeking a therapist being a “shameful” secret are becoming a thing of the past.
However, we still have a long way to go. Though the stigma of mental illness is slowly eroding, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding it. As you become more open about your mental illness, you’re going to meet people who will not be accepting or open-minded about your condition. This person could be an acquaintance with strong opinions about “people these days” who take medications for anxiety. It could even be a close family member who suddenly changes their interactions with you after coming out.
Some people will distance themselves from you. Some people will try to tell you that mental illness is “all in your head” or an “excuse” or “made up”. Some people will be discouraging or even downright judgmental and mean when you mention that you take pharmaceutical medications to manage your symptoms. And I can tell you that everything mentioned may happen because I went through it–and survived it. And so will you.
So, how do you deal with people when they become rude over a discussion of mental health? There are a few steps to take. One step–and this is the hardest thing to do–is acceptance of the situation. Yes, there are some people that will offer their unwanted opinions on your condition and there will definitely be opinions about your choice to take medications or see a therapist. But at the end of the day, you must remember that it’s your situation and therefore, you have final say in who you are, what mental illness means to you, and how you choose to deal with your mental health. In the end, they’re opinion is just that–an opinion. And you should practice saying “You are entitled to your opinion,” to better move on from them.
The second hardest step is building a sense of self against the negativity.
Regardless of what people will tell you or think, you are not weak (gentle reminder that mental illness is a medical condition, not a character flaw). You are not a burden. You are not making it up or finding an excuse or seeking attention. On the contrary, you’re a strong individual who’s able to endure life and achieve so much despite a medical condition that’s meant to hold you back. You’re not weak-willed by opting for medication and therapy, but rather, you’re courageous for acknowledging your mental illness and seeking ways to deal with it. Tell yourself this everyday, watch your self-confidence go up, and watch as other’s people negativity become a little less relevant everyday.
Another option is to educate. When someone says something ignorant about mental illness, calmly provide them with information on what you go through and what your brain is going through. If, for instance, a parent is skeptical or just doesn’t get anxiety or depression or bipolar, you can show them articles and research to help them to better understand mental illness. With this option, you may be offering them a new perspective they never considered before.
But what happens if this option doesn’t work? The person is stubbornly holding on to their opinion that mental illness is a weakness and are even shaming you for having, say, panic attacks–now what? Well, you’ll need to ask yourself: is this someone you’d want to associate with? Is this someone you can trust to be supportive as you conquer mental illness? Is this person good for your mental health? Sometimes, coming out of the mental illness closet means learning about the toxic people you need to weed from your life. And the more you come out, the more you’ll be able to distinguish between people on your side and those who are not. Move on from those people and instead focus on those who are beneficial to your emotional well-being.
Find a community of others like you
Sometimes, discussing it with neurotypical friends is not enough. You may want to consider discussing your mental health condition with those who also suffer from the same issue. You can achieve this by joining an online forum or finding a support group in your area. By speaking with others who have the same condition, you can find those that relate to your experiences and give you the feeling that you’re not alone. Also, there’s a certain freedom to discussing your mental illness in a support group, as you’ll know you’re going talk to people who are completely supportive and non-judgmental.
Coming out of the mental illness closet may be the hardest and the most courageous thing you’ll ever have to do. As for me, the journey was a challenge, the people weren’t always nice, but I’m happier, more authentic, and I finally found a sense of freedom and strength I never imagined. In other words, the journey will be difficult as you encounter people of all perspectives about mental health, but the end result will be worth it.