To Out Thyself Or Not To Out Thyself

AlwaysThat is the question.

One of the nice things about having voices across the spectrum, people who have roles in all walks of life – personal and professional – is that we can really get some different input and perspective on the question about being open with our mental health diagnoses.  Is it so wrong to hide it from people?  Does that silence ultimately contribute to misunderstanding and stigma?  If you want to be an advocate, are you in any position to be one if you will speak and discuss it anonymously online, but will not fight the fight and “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” in your daily life, amongst people whom you face every day?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his life for his beliefs.  Would you?  What about for your children?  In case you haven’t heard, if you are diagnosed with a mental health issue the odds of your child having one increase quite considerably.  What will you say to your child when you tell them that depression is not anything they should be ashamed of, and they look at you and ask, “Then why did you hide it from people, Mom?”

Of course there’s the right now to be considered.  Holding down a job so that you can feed and clothe and give your child everything they need to grow successfully into adults.  But what does your child need more, the expensive brand name top, or a strong, positive role model who stands up to what society says and refuses to kowtow to what is considered normal?

This doesn’t just speak to them having a model for dealing with mental health issues, either.  This addresses everything from wearing the latest fad to sex to drug use to sexual identity.  How can you tell your child to stand up to their peers on the one hand, and be afraid to do the same yourself?

I’m very fortunate.  My work allows me the freedom to be completely honest about myself and my diagnoses with my employers and not only retain my job, but be loved and respected for what I do.  Would you like to know what that is?

I work with children.  In a one-on-one, unsupervised environment.  Sometimes for long hours, frequently during hectic days (are there any other kind, with kids).  My parents have told me repeatedly that they would rather have their children in my care than the care of someone who does not carry a diagnosis.  The kids have seen me snap before, but what caregiver hasn’t?  The kids have wanted me to go outside and chase them around, and I’ve been too exhausted so I pop in a video.  Raise your hand if you’re a parent and you have never done that.

The kids have also experienced magical days when we paint and bake cookies and make tents in the living room and I clean it all up after they have gone down for their naps.  I color with them and sing while I make lunch and never forget the necessaries when we’re running errands.

Do you know what they see most of all?  Balance.  Strength and frailty and humanity.  I am not a mess, and I am not Superwoman.  But we talk a lot about things that most kids don’t get to discuss.  True differences and uniquity and loving yourself, everything about yourself.  Never making someone feel badly because they aren’t the same as you, and apologizing if you do it.

We celebrate each and every thing that sets them apart from the crowd.  Red hair or painting or their love of dolls.  Thinking creatively and looking at things differently (that’s my favorite).

So come on, all, come out from the shadows.  Come show the world that we are parents and professionals and writers and students and sales clerks and everything that they are.  Put a face with these labels.  If you can’t find the ability to do it for yourself, do it so that the next generation doesn’t have quite such a fight facing them.

© Always and A Canvas Of The Minds 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Always and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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13 thoughts on “To Out Thyself Or Not To Out Thyself

  1. Well, you know how I feel about this one. I choose to live my life fully, to live everything about it and me, or not live it at all. I don’t make excuses or apologize for anything about myself. And yes, I would give my life for my beliefs. I would give them for mine, or if I felt it could make a better future for the generation to come.

    What is my life worth, if not to make a lasting difference?

  2. Ruby, of course I love you, and I value your input so very much. But I almost think we shouldn’t comment on each other’s posts, at least not until others have had a chance to think and make comments themselves. We’ve just already hashed through it all between us, and I feel like we become the Great Wall of China.

    Or maybe it’s just because it’s the weekend and others are doing other things. 😉

    • You know what? I think you’re right with your Great Wall analogy. From now on I’ll only make comments when I have something new and different to add.

      Sorry everyone.

  3. I really enjoyed your post, and I feel the same way most of the time. But unfortunately for me, my family doesn’t share the same viewpoint. I hope that in time I can convince them that it will be okay for me to reveal my true identity on my blog. My diagnosis is a piece of who I am, it does not define me. I hope to educate people about it as well, so as to help diffuse the stigma a little bit. Every little bit helps, right?

    • I was lucky in some ways, in that when I was diagnosed (mid-20s) I was young enough that I didn’t have anyone else to think about the label or associations affecting, but old enough to make up my own mind on the subject. My parents were very supportive and they have always understood that there are things in life that I have to decide entirely on my own – whether to disclose or not being one of those things.

      So while I may not go around shouting my diagnoses from the rooftops, I’m not at all shy about disclosing them either. I want to be viewed as someone who is strong, intelligent, kind, loving, functional, and who happens to have manic-depression and PTSD. As you said, it’s a piece of who I am. On some days, a bigger piece, on others, a smaller.

      I really do hope you get the chance to be forthcoming about your diagnosis. I think that if the rest of the world could have more opportunities to see us as people – people who have a unique set of challenges at times, but just people, nonetheless – that alone would do a great deal toward changing their misconceptions.

      Good luck to you.

  4. Hello Always! I’m so glad to finally read your posts. I’ve been preoccupied lately… I’ll get to that later.

    I wish that I could come out and tell people, honestly. However, I’ve had some pretty bad experiences in the last two years since I was officially diagnosed. Of course, I shared it with my family members, my husband, my parents. My husband and father still deny the validity of my diagnosis, and all of my family members ignore me when I am trying to warn them of an oncoming episode. My husband will still do things to deliberately antagonize me, even after I’ve warned him. I’m not making a threat, people. I’m throwing a red flag. Then, when my actions are sometimes out of control, I will be harrassed and chastised for them for awhile afterward.

    I came out once at a previous employment shortly after I was diagnosed. Several coworkers did and said things to hurt me and make my work environment absolutely toxic. My boss did nothing to correct this. Mostly, people used the knowledge to their advantage, turned it against me in the attempt to destroy me. And they succeeded. I just decided one day that I couldn’t bear the thought of going back again.

    So I hide it. And I typically hide it under the guise of physical illness. It’s not too difficult because there is plenty of physical illness present, so it’s not like these are phantom symptoms. It’s easier sometimes to do it that way. I can take off of work without someone having to make a comment about it. I can lay in bed without my husband calling me lazy. Well, as long as it doesn’t happen very often.

    I haven’t come up with a way to be my own advocate yet. I was hoping that I could get some help with that here. It’s impossible for me to stand up and explain to people that I can’t help some things. I have bipolar disorder. I’m not always in control and sometimes, I get moody beyond help. More than anything, I want people in my life to recognize red flags and offer support. If I talk about committing suicide, it’s not for attention. I’ve attempted it enough times with some serious gusto, and really failed. If I talk about being angry, don’t antagonize me. And more than anything, don’t make me feel like it’s my fault. I hate myself enough already without the help of others.

    How do I do this? How can I help people to understand this and know how to help me?

    • Lulu, I am really so sorry that you had that experience with your previous work environment, and that you are lacking support where one would hope it would be most prevalent – amsongst your close family. I had a similar situation with someone who should have offered me unconditional understanding but couldn’t, they refused to take the time to try to learn and understand, and unfortunately I had to cut them from my life, completely. Obviously you can’t do that with your husband or your father, I don’t know if they would benefit from attempts at education and counseling.

      I think that if we work together, we can help you figure out ways to be an adovocate for yourself. It may be piecemeal, you don’t seem to be in a position to shout it from the rooftops just yet. And that’s okay. That’s what the zealots like Ruby and I are for (although I think she spends more time atop rooves than I do). 😉

      But don’t lose faith, and don’t give up hope. This site and your personal blog are good beginnings in and of themselves. You “outing” yourself online will be beneficial in your day-to-day life, whether you realize it or not. Knowing that you have support, that you are not alone in your struggles, and seeing how others cope and take action is a very positive, powerful, and empowering experience.

      • I’m glad for the support in other areas too. I am very good at taking charge of my own life. But I’m not always great at being myself when it comes to my diagnoses. I’m not saying that I should feed the beast, but I shouldn’t cower behind excuses in fear.

        I’m glad everyone is here to help me find my mouthpiece.

    • Wow. Reading your reply tells me just how much work there is to be done in educating the public about mental health. My heart goes out to you because you have tried and I am in such admiration of the attempts you have made. I guess sometimes we have to figure out who the supportive, trustworthy people are to share our emotional health with. And we are not all in the position to shout it from the rooftops at the same time ( As Always said). But I think that it is also true that you can begin putting it together one piece at a time. And your being out in the forum that you are is an amazing way to begin. One thing I’ve found from the little bit of time I’ve been blogging is the enormous support I receive from this online community. They give me courage to keep moving forward.

      I am also so in awe of your having been willing to risk throwing out the red flags and ask for help from those around you. You are ready to do that. Perhaps they just aren’t ready quite yet. Hopefully they will be at some point. Perhaps, besides this online community, there are support programs near you somewhere that you could check out. Sometimes we have to go beyond our own family and immediate circle for that support and practice building our strength there. Wishing you all the best. Will keep you in my thoughts.

  5. I have been struggling so hard with this lately. It’s sooo good to read these words this morning. Truly makes me feel not so alone not so broken its hard enough to not be able to control my body but to be in this dark place as well has been pushing me to my breaking point and honestly I don’t know what to do. But reading these words at least reassures me that if I don’t check out that there is still a life to lead.
    Much love and light
    Benjamin

  6. I struggle so much with this issue. I have dealt with my own mental health issues and, with a lot of work, I can finally share those issues with my family and friends. I do write under a pseudonym on my blog because I write about my son, who is still too young to fully give consent for me to write about his/our story. However, he amazes me because, at 14, he has already decided to be an advocate for himself. He shares his story, writes articles and tells other kids about his OCD. It’s not always easy because teenagers aren’t always very kind about that. More often than not, though, he finds someone who can connect with and relate to what he shares.

  7. I wish I had a solid diagnosis that I could share. All I can do right now is ‘fess up to ADHD but that doesn’t explain the mood crazies – apparently nothing in the DSM does.

  8. I have to say, that I have been doing all that I can (except to promote my blog, FB, & Twitter account more aggressively), within my power, up to this point in time, to be a fighter against the stigma of mental illness. I was diagnosed with Bipolar1 13 years ago, come December. I believe that ANYONE, who speaks out, in whatever kind of forum, in any kind of social or personal interaction, is fighting stigma…the last thing I hope that happens in this wonderful community of people is that anyone has to apologize, or be perceived as not “walking the walk”, if they have to keep physical or professional or personal anonymity regarding their mental health issues. Most of the blogs I read have no face . But a caring, brave human being is behind it all, so that’s all that’s required for me. I feel it’s better showing up with sunglasses, and a hat or scarf, online, than not showing up at all. Thanks for the opportunity to share. Love, Nana

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