Since I started this blog a month or so ago, I’ve been increasing my time on WordPress browsing other blogs to read what other fellow bloggers are up to, and I discovered a world full of beautiful people that are writing incredibly moving things which I can absolutely relate to. In Italy, when someone “discovers” things that everyone else in the world knows about, we say “you just discovered hot water”. It seems that it is what happened to me with these blogs!
Anyway, one of the blogs I fell in love with is called “Around the ward in 80 days” written by the amazing Ida (I encourage you to please give this blog a read, it is awesome).
The other day I was reading this post that she wrote called “I need to tell you something.”, which is about whether or not someone suffering from mental illness should hide or share this fact with his/her respective parner. I had quite a debate with myself about it: why people should hide their mental health to their partner? Or to anyone, to be honest? Like Ida, I wholeheartedly agree that no one should ever hide what goes on in his/her mind, especially in a relationship.
Ok, let’s expand on the topic a bit more, shall we?
I understand that mental illness comes with a very horrible stigma attached to it.
I said it in previous blog posts and I will say it again now: I don’t get why people are fine with, let’s say, broken bones, upset stomachs, viruses and infections, but anything that affects the brain is a massive taboo that everyone better hide or be shamed for life. I just don’t get it! Am I missing a memo or something? Isn’t the brain just like any other organ of our body?
Ok, I get that mental illnesses are not exactly like chickenpox or measles, I’m not that oblivious to the fact that we are talking about a very different kind of illness here. I’ve suffered with crippling anxiety for all my life, I had panic attacks and suicidal thoughts for three years and half of my family is battling (and battled) mental illnesses (from depression to in and out of mental units) so yeah, I know what I am talking about, alright?
I understand that the nature of the topic discussed here is pretty sensitive, and I’m not suggesting that people should force it down other people’s throat, not at all. Having these kind of issues is rather upsetting as it is, last thing someone in these conditions need is to feel obliged to overshare for the sake of “killing the stigma”.
However, I do feel that it is important to spread the word, to let people know, to raise awareness: I surprised few people when I said that, even though I could barely go through five minutes without a panic attack, I managed to work full time without taking a single day off sick. You know, not all people with mental illness spend their days in bed, in the dark, hugging their pillows and sobbing their heart out. Some do, some don’t, some do something different entirely, some do all of the above or nothing at all and guess what? it is absolutely fine because everyone copes with what they have in their own way; my point is that mental illness does not necessarily equal “unable to function at all times”.
I don’t think people should introduce themselves like “hello, my name is … and I’m bipolar / depressed / suffering with anxiety” etc, but once you get to establish a connection that is more than casually chatting away now and then, if you feel like it…. Why not just mention it?
The vast majority of my colleagues and my friends knows what happened to me.
I shared my story openly, multiple times. Most of them read this blog as well, so there is no mystery about whatever I have suffered or what I am going through at the moment. I don’t really care about hiding it.
I spent too much time and energy hating myself and trying to be everything everyone wanted me to be, only to end up being even more miserable than before.
Thanks to therapy and some work on myself, I’ve now reached the blissful stage of “I am who I am and if you don’t like it, your problem not mine” so if someone gets upset or shocked by me having been suicidal, well, is it really my issue? Don’t think so, no.
My mental health, or illness, is something that it is part of who I am. What I experienced, the way I overcame my issues, the journey I am in to feel better, improve and re-wire my brain into a powerhouse of positive energy and thoughts, it’s exactly what makes me the person I am today. Why should I hide it? To make others feel better? To not “scare” them? I’m not a murderer, I don’t have any dark secret, I just dealt with what life threw at me!
I’ve always been clear in my relationships about what I’ve been suffering with. Unfortunately, I had a thing for falling for unsuitable partners (I’m trying to be polite and diplomatic here, please appreciate the effort) who either didn’t want to understand, or who used my “weaknesses” to make me feel even worse that what I was feeling, in order for them to cover their insecurities and ensure they always had an upper hand when it came to our relationship: I was the needy one desperate for love, they were the tyrants with the power to decide if and when I was worthy enough of the tiny crumbles of their attention. It was only after few sessions of psychotherapy that I realised why I kept picking these pricks (ok sorry I can’t be polite for too long): I hated myself so much that, by choosing these arseholes, I was basically proving to myself that I was not worth anything better, and I was using them as the embodiment of my self-hate. Of course I always dreamed of having someone who truly loved me, who truly cared for me, who was there to protect me, inspire me and to share our lives in an equal, amazing partnership, but turns out I have preferred to chase people too damaged, too arid and incapable of loving anyone, themselves included, in a sick pursuit of “fixing them to fix myself”.
I don’t think I will end up in another relationship anytime soon, but would I be sharing what I have been through with my mental health again? Yes, of course I would. I now believe that the right person would love me for who I really am, not for what they think I am, or for being the one they want me to be, and my mental status is included in the package, like it or not. How can a partner get to know me if I don’t share with him this very important aspect of my life?
Before you dare to ask something like “but what if you are scared that your partner will run away as soon as he/she knows about your condition?”.
First of all, you are not exactly confessing a murder or anything as horrid as that. I’m sorry to break this news to you (and I’m one who didn’t want to accept it myself), but as upsetting as it may sound, if your partner gets scared and does a runner once he/she knows… well… he/she is not the right person for you.
Being scared and concerned it is totally understandable. I get it. When my ex told me about his personal dramas, I had few moments of “….shiiiiiit…..”. But I loved him, I wanted to help, to be supportive; I was grateful and appreciative of him allowing me to step into his nightmares and have a good understanding at what was up with him (shame the gratefulness has not been reciprocated…. Anyway). You need to understand that we are used to fight against our brains, but our partners may not, and may not know what to do, how to approach us, how to help us in our darkest hour. We need to understand this and help them. Communication is key, and trying to have a bit more patience too when they struggle to get it right would also be nice. Let’s be honest, it is not easy being us, ok, but it is also not easy for them being our partners if we don’t make them aware of how we function, and we need to appreciate how complicated can be to act in what we think is “the right way” (which, for some of us, may be ok today, but completely wrong tomorrow). Having said that, if they refuse to acknowledge our issues and make our lives an endless misery of shame and pain… well…. Here is the door, goodbye, fuck off.
I understand why people want to hide these issues, don’t get me wrong. It is not exactly the nicest thing ever to go to someone and say “hey, dude, here’s the thing: I’m mental and don’t function like “normal” people, happy?”. But hiding is not the answer. Believe me. The only one who will suffer is you, in the end. I know it is hard to believe, but hiding requires a lot of effort and energy, and the more you hide, the more painful and tough to keep your secret will be.
As hard as it may seem to think this way, you may be positively surprised by how people react. Yes, there will be the odd imbecile here and there, unfortunately there is no vaccine out there preventing stupidity, but good people will listen and will care. Give the world a chance to hear about you. Even if you find just one person who listens to you, your effort will be worth it. You may not know, but your words may mean the universe for that single individual out there. Let’s spread some love out there, shall we?