When I first began treatment for my illness I never knew who in my life I could tell, or when or how. In a time where I so desperately wanted to tell everyone who cared about me how much I needed help, acceptance, and compassion, I told no one. My subsequent faltering behavior with no explanation only stood to make me look bad, and help usher me into failure in certain rights. Thankfully much has changed since then and more people and places are coming to accept the idea of mental illness affecting our population instead of rejecting it.
Looking back I’d always wondered if I were given the opportunity to come out to anyone at anytime barring any judgement or repercussions, what I would say and how I would say it. It’s a challenging and harrowing endeavor given both the immensely pervasive stigma and ignorance toward the subject. How could I get people to understand and sympathize with something they likely haven’t experienced or been educated on?
I figured if I’m looking for compassion then I’d be better off starting from a place of compassion. I would’ve wanted to try and find a way to put myself in an outsider’s shoes to help them get an idea of what I was going through and how it affects me, just as I’d hope they could do for me. I imagined I would’ve written an open letter to the world, on behalf of myself and anyone with mental illness that just wanted to be known for who they really are – a human being. Here it is:
Dear Parents, Siblings, Employers, Friends, Coworkers, Extended Family Members, Significant Others, Neighbors, Acquaintances, et al.,
Some of you may have known me for only a short time, some for years. I’m scared as hell right now because I have something to tell all of you that many, few, or none of you might know. I don’t want to tell you as it may shock you, because of the fear, stigma, and judgement that are sadly so very prevalent. By the same token I absolutely want to tell you, because if you care about me at all you will do your best to keep an open heart and mind, and know that there should be no shame in what I am about to tell you.
Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve definitely had my moments. For the most part I realize I seem to keep it together fairly well day-to-day. But if you knew what I go through when you’re not around, or you knew how hard I have to work to hide what I want to tell you to keep my life in one piece, I’d be willing to bet that underneath any adverse inherent reaction you might feel upon finding out, would hopefully be some compassion and kindness.
If you knew about the secrets I’ve kept, or the stories and lies I’ve forcibly crafted to cover the sacrifices I’ve had to make on behalf of my wellness. If you knew the lengths I’ve gone to under the most trying conditions to keep my feet on the ground and my head on my shoulders. If you knew how much grit and strength it takes to wake up and press on almost every single day, or the decisions I have to face knowing I’m ultimately going to disappoint someone in the end, or how hard I have to work on top of the task of existence as it is to save face, I know you’d find the understanding and love in your heart to support me to the best of your ability through what I’m about to confess to you.
Truth is, this shouldn’t have to be a confession at all. Like any other illness I should have the freedom to come out with it to anyone at any time and not live in fear of having misguided judgement cast on me. The unfortunate fact is that illness often lends itself to losing relationships. If nothing though, it should at least be enlightenment to the fact that looking back on the mistakes I’ve made or times where I’ve fallen short, that I was actually trying my best given the hand I was dealt. If there is compassion within you for that, it should hopefully help things make a lot more sense in retrospect. You may even realize how brave I have been all this time, and that I am also not alone in this fight. Many people suffer from the same illness I do, yet 60% of them go untreated each year out of fear and shame, or lack of access to proper treatment.
You might also realize why I am so scared to tell you this, or why I chose to wait so long. There is no instruction manual on who to tell, who not to tell, and how to go about it, or how to deal with their reactions be they good or bad. I’ve been let go from jobs, I’ve lost friends and relationships. I’ve been called a burden, a faker, and a flake. I’ve been edged out, walked out on, mocked, judged, put down. All for something that I never asked for, and I was responsible for fixing on my own. I’m lucky enough to say I was able to do that.
Before I say what I need to say I want you to know that you have the power to help my life and many others become better, healthier, and more productive by allowing us to come out with this into open arms. By accepting me as I am and knowing that I am doing everything in my power to right size my condition and take charge of my life again, you are helping give me the gift of life. After all, you wouldn’t tell someone who has cancer that they’re a burden or pass judgement on them for the sacrifices they have to make on behalf of their wellness.
I want to tell you that I have mental illness. I hope you can accept my apology for any of my shortcomings, past or future, and their effects on you. I hope you can still see me for me, and not my illness. I hope you know that I wouldn’t be telling you if I didn’t care. And I hope for myself, for all those directly affected by mental illness, and everyone indirectly affected because that’s what keeps us going through the hardest times of our lives; hope for our future and the actions we take to effect change on behalf of the hope we have for ourselves.
Peace, love, and wellness.