Ever felt ashamed to share your mental health story?
I often hesitate when asked what caused my mental health issues. The same people might ask “How did you break your leg?” but the answer is much more personal and never as simple. The joy is that when I do take the time to explain, it can change lives.
Last week I was asked this question with so much sincerity and compassion that I thought it was timely to share my reflections in this blog.
Disclosing my recent experience with depression (and anxiety) can still feel like I’m ‘coming out’. It tests me and I can feel emotional. The feelings of shame, weakness and failure are still there but I am usually happy to tell my story when asked.
My explanation on the cause of my depression isn’t fluent yet, but it goes something like this. “Ah, it’s been a combination of lots of things, um…. my mother got dementia, my best friend died, I was facing challenges in my business, my mother’s dementia got really bad, my grandson died and 30 years of stress caught up on me.” Oh, and there’s a history of depression in my extended family.”
Whew! That’s a lot to pack into 30 seconds but it’s usually enough to bring a hint of recognition from the questioner. Firstly, while it’s a story laden with sadness, it could have happened to them. Secondly, they often know more about mental illness that they initially let on.
As it becomes easier to talk about my journey, I can see the strength it gives others to share their own deeply-personal mental health stories. For some, it’s the first time they’ve talked openly about post-traumatic stress disorder , depression or ‘burnout’ brought on by overwork or stress. I feel honoured to be the recipient of these private accounts.
I have come to realise that telling my story is important, if it can help others from falling into the trap of keeping a secret. Nothing may have averted my life-changing episode of mental illness but I am certain that being more vulnerable may have prevented the rapid decline and eased a lengthy recovery.
If you have a mental health journey, (whether it’s your own or that of someone you love), then my best advice is – talk about it! If not for your sake, then with the knowledge that you could help others break their silence.
Your story is a precious gift. Talking about your mental health can bring grace into someone else’s life.
Please let me know if you have ever shared your story or will do so in the future.
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Or if you’re a woman over 50 who’d like to swap your setbacks for success – check out my new blog at SheLovesLifeOver50.com.