I read this really lovely piece a few weeks ago about how much better off we could all potentially be if we were willing to be more emotionally honest instead of worrying about the way people would react to that honesty all the time. Then I read this other great article about the bullshit idea that is being “needy” and I started having this fantasy about a world where we didn’t find it 100% necessary to conceal all of our less than perfect behavioral traits.
I spend a lot of time thinking about this particular set of issues, because I happen to be fairly crazy. I’m not saying that as a bad thing, I am merely stating a fact. When it comes to mental health, mine is not so great.
It’s OK (most of the time) and I’m working on it (what up, Wellbutrin!) but it is a fact. I have a mental illness.
Before I started seeing my current mental health team I spent so much effort attempting to hide my mental illness from everyone around me. I never talked to my parents about it, I only talked to a couple of my friends about it and I obviously didn’t want anybody at work to know what was going on.
Eventually, I realized that by spending so much energy suppressing this part of myself I had started suppressing the good parts too. I was afraid to feel the bad feelings so I wasn’t feeling the good ones either. So I stopped.
Feeling all the feelings while at work and nobody got hurt! Photo credit: Rob Striem
A couple months after I started with my therapist I started working on this TV show and I straight up told my boss that I HAD to leave by 8:15pm on Tuesdays because I had to go to therapy or else I was going to lose my shit and I wouldn’t be able to continue my very stressful job. (Spoiler alert: I ended up quitting that job because it was robbing my life of any joy, but that’s a story for another day.) I could tell when we had the conversation that he was a little uncomfortable with how frank I was being, but for the first time I just didn’t care.
That is who I am. I am a person who requires mental maintenance; it would be false of me to claim otherwise so why should I pretend to be something that I’m not?
Once I crossed that big hurdle of “coming out” as crazy at work, telling anybody else seemed pretty inconsequential. I’m not saying I’m running around telling every stranger I meet the inner workings of my brain (life isn’t a women’s college after all), but if it comes up, I tell the truth.
I don’t know that it’s made my actual mental state any better, but it certainly feels freeing to not have to pretend anymore.
The only problem with this new modus operandi is that it seems to scare the shit out of everyone around me. I can immediately think of at least 7 people that will be horrified at the idea of me telling the whole of the internet all my business, but I happen to think that’s BS.
I think a lot of those people maybe have the idea that someday I will be cured of whatever’s wrong with me, but I can tell you right now, it ain’t happening. I will get better at dealing with it, and if I’m lucky, over time it will become less and less debilitating, but it’s never gonna go away.
When you think about it, having a mental illness is a lot like having Crohn’s disease or asthma or something. It sucks, but then you learn how to deal with it and you live your life. It doesn’t go away but if you play your cards right, you can learn to manage it. And in the same way that nobody should feel shame or guilt about having Crohn’s or asthma, nobody should blame themselves for whatever mental malady they happen to suffer from.
We all walk through the world with this totally false idea that most people have it together mentally and those of us that don’t are the freaks but that’s just not true. I mean, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 9.6 MILLION adults in the US suffer from a “Serious Mental Illness” — that’s like, almost half as many people that watch “The Big Bang Theory” every week! (Sidebar: who are these 20.35 million people watching that show? I have honestly never met anyone who watches it.) And that doesn’t even include all those hormone-jacked teens going through it or people that suffer from mild or situational depression.
The truth of the matter is most of us are totally nuts so we should just own up to it, and stop fronting like we’re not.
More importantly, the more open we can be about the things going on in our hearts and minds, the more people will get used to the idea of everyone experiencing the full range of human emotion. That way if someone finds that they’re starting to mentally unravel a bit, maybe it won’t be such a big deal to admit that something is going on and get the help they need.
As much as anybody might try to make you believe otherwise, you should never be ashamed about the way you feel. So do you and next time someone calls you crazy for simply having a feeling, say thanks and keep on acting like a totally normal human being.