Last night I listened to a panel of students share their stories about their mental illness before their peers. Stories about the darkest moments that they have never shared with anyone else. Yet there they were, saying them out loud, often through tears, to a room full of people they didn’t know.
Every year Active Minds, the student group that I advise, hosts two panels: one on mental illness in general, and one on eating disorders. Even though it often ends up being harder than they expect it to be, they tell their stories because they hope that it will help to end stigma by humanizing mental illness.
The closest I’ve come to sharing my deepest, darkest secrets out loud is when I told students in one of my Abormal Psychology classes about my first depressive episode. I had wanted to do it for some time, and it probably took me 3-4 years of teaching to work up the courage to do so. At the end of the semester, one of the students in that class thanked me for talking about my depression. But at the time I was still so ashamed of it that the reminder that I had said it out loud and someone heard it was so mortifying that I never shared my story again.
I started this blog because I read that this is the kind of thing you needed to do if you wanted to get a book published. My vision of the book was initially much more “how to,” with some examples from my personal life thrown in to make it interesting. But when I was researching blogs, I realized that there were already a lot of “how to” blogs. So I decided that my unique contribution to the blogosphere would be telling my story. I could be a mental health professional who shares those deep, dark secrets that she has never shared with anyone else.
I have written often about how therapists are taught to use self-disclosure with caution to make sure that the focus stays on the client, but also because you want to appear as though you have your act together. But based on the feedback I’ve gotten from readers, perhaps therapists have been wrong about self-disclosure. It seems that sharing our humanity is one of the most healing things that anyone can do to help another person.
I have pushed myself to share my experience in far more detail than I ever imagined that I would. But I know I can push myself further. I, too, could stand before people and share my story out loud, in front of anyone who wants to listen. So now that’s what I hope to do. If writing a book will help me accomplish that goal, then I still want to write one, but that is no longer my end goal. My end goal is to do what those students did last night–to humanize mental illness with my story rather than my expertise.