Obviously, I’m here to write about speaking out about life with chronic mental illness. That isn’t changing, but I think it’s important to look at one reality we live with every day. No matter how much we value speaking out, we still frequently “hide the crazy” to function in the mundane world. If you’ve lived with depression for a while (or anything like it), you know what I mean. Imagine the following:
Person 1: How’re you?
Person 2: Oh, ya know. It’s been a good day so far. Had my coffee, so I’m ready to face the day. You?
Person 1: I’m fine (or, alternately, I’m good).
So, which one is living with depression on a daily basis? Well, actually, it could be either. We’ve all been on both sides of that conversation. Some days we say what we have to so we can get out of the conversation (I’m fine). And some days we, dare I say, overcompensate (word vomit, anyone? no? is that just me?). As someone pushing to speak out and reduce the stigma, I naturally have to wonder why?
Why do we hide our illness?
Actually, it’s a really good question that I haven’t been able to find a great answer for. We seem to do it out of fear, shame, convenience, or a combination of any of these. I know for me, it was usually convenience. After all, everyone seems to use “How’re you doing?” as a greeting, but no one really wants to know the answer – especially when the answer is negative.
In my job, I saw hundreds of people a day. For instance, the day I wrote this, I had about 300 customers, so that’s about 300 how’re yous to wade through. If I tell the truth (eh, not great actually), then they feel obligated to respond (oh, what’s wrong?). Next thing you know, you’re trapped in a ten-minute long conversation with someone trying to be super polite about how your life is going down the crapper. Needless to say, it can be exhausting.
I know for others though, it’s fear or shame that keeps them silent. Fear that showing your inner “crazy” will mean a lost job, lost friend, or lost family member. I have spoken with moms and dads who are actually afraid to get help because they’re worried it’ll be used against them in custody hearings. Or parents that don’t get help because they’re ashamed to feel “weak” and worry about how their family will perceive it.
There are so many reasons to “hide the crazy”.
Why shouldn’t we hide our illness?
Let’s just start by looking at those parents I spoke about.
Mom #1 doesn’t want to speak out and get help because she’s afraid it’ll be used against her in custody battles. Obviously, I’m not a legal expert, so I can’t speak to how that works and whether it can or can’t be used (seems like it shouldn’t, but that’s just me talking). I can say, though, that if she’s critically depressed, she should get help.
Think of it this way, if you care about your kids and you are struggling, you need to get help. Parenting is hella hard work, but when you’re severely depressed, it’s even harder. Getting help can give you the tools to feel better and ultimately make you a better parent. Not only will you be more present and able to enjoy life, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with the stresses of parenting. After all, a mom who can’t sleep or eat probably going to struggle getting her kids fed and to bed on time, too. They need that, just as much as you do! It’s worth the struggle.
As for our other parent – Dad #2 may be afraid to show his inner crazy because of how he will be perceived by others. He might be afraid he’ll be judged by his friends, or will set a poor example for his kids. Maybe he just feels weak because of his depression or anxiety. Either way, it’s understandable, but important to push through. You know I’m gonna say it (because this is what I do, after all), but – Dad, you need to reach out and get help.
Forget the friends. If they can’t keep up, they are not going to be good for you anyway. Think about your kids. You may think you’re setting a poor example for your kids, but remember a lot of mental illnesses can be hereditary. Think of your son or daughter and how you might respond if they were suffering. Would you tell them to suck it up when they’re depressed? Would you tell them to get over it when they’re anxious? Or would you tell them it’s okay, you love them, and you’re going to help them get through it?
If you answered either of the first two with yes, then we need to have a chat. But if you would choose the last option, then you need to take a second and think. If you can’t do the same for yourself, why would they believe you can help them? And honestly, if you don’t take the time to care for yourself, how are you going to find the strength to care for them?
Now, I’m going to take a second and look at my own example. It can really be inconvenient to have to explain what’s going on 300 hundred times in a day, and frankly, most of the people that ask how I’m doing don’t even want to know, anyway. So, if that’s the case, why should I bother telling them?
Here’s my answer. You never know who might be feeling the same way. Yeah, sure, some of them will just play nice and nod at the right times and “oh, dear” when necessary. But some of them will really understand. Those are the people I speak up for because they’re the ones that need to hear it. We all need to know we’re not alone.
Every time I speak up and speak out about how my depression is making it hard to keep moving, or my brain damage is making it impossible for me to understand words (the first ten times), they learn it’s okay to actually talk about it.
The Moral: Never Hide the Crazy
Okay, maybe if you’re going the kind of crazy where you need to scream at something or throw things, maybe do that alone in your room. I’m all for venting however you can, but be safe and smart about it. And keep that in private.
But if you’re feeling down or anxious or sensitive to sound or light or textures, speak up! People are usually willing to help out, even if it’s just listening or grabbing the smooth spoon. And the more you get help, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the easier things get.
Every time you speak up about what’s going on, you give others strength. You set a strong example for your family and loved ones and you show them (and you) that you can get through this.
With that, I’m issuing a challenge. Your challenge this week is to do it. Talk to someone, honestly, about how you’re feeling. It can be good or bad, but it needs to be honest. Give them the chance to hear you and give yourself the chance to share. You never know what will happen. You might give them strength in their own struggles, or you might find a helping hand. Either way, you take a step towards a better day where we no longer feel we have to hide our crazy.
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