Lesson 1 - The Bad Isn’t So Bad
The first lesson I learned from sharing my mental health stories is that the bad really isn’t so bad.
What I thought was something I could never overcome became something entirely different when I brought it out to share with others.
The light of day, and the gaining of others’ perspectives, changed the way I saw my struggles.
Inside my head, struggles are boulders. They are roadblocks with no way around them.
But sharing my mental health issues with others exposed them to new angles. The way someone else sees my struggles can never be how I see them–it’s a different angle.
What I experienced as the worst ever was almost always someone else’s second or third worst. They had seen a bottom pit I had not yet reached, and with their help, I could avoid a similar fate.
Keeping a tragedy in your head is confining it to the walls of your mind.
Unboxing it and sharing your mental health struggles, while terrifying at first, is actually one of the safer actions you can take.
How to Do It:
Start with safe spaces - Choose to share in an environment where you already feel comfortable. There’s no need to bring the discomfort of your first share to the discomfort of an unfamiliar or threatening space.
Start small - Don’t burst right out and share your story with every dripping detail. Test the waters. See how people react at first. Once you collect your initial data on how supportive a person might be, you can then decide to move forward if you want to.
Separate yourself from your “bad” before you share - I write about this a lot–in fact, the very act of writing is an ongoing lesson of this for me–and that is using writing or typing as a way to get the thoughts out of your head and see them for what they are. Looking at words on paper or a screen is an entirely different experience from letting them build up and consume your entire mind.
Lesson 2 - Sharing Makes You Human
How do you feel when someone shares a personal fact?
Do you judge them?
If they are choosing to be vulnerable with you, you know it.
You can tell that what they are sharing took great courage.
This is the inexplicable duality of sharing and receiving. One person shares their darkest secrets, and the other person receives them and makes them whole.
Humans evolved by seeing each other for what they were. In the wild and turbulent times of surviving out in the wild, humans automatically saw each other at their best and worst.
But, in modern times, it’s too easy to hide away the parts of yourselves that you’re ashamed of.
While this might seem like a good thing, it actually prevents you from getting the human connection that has been passed down to you through the ages.
Talking about your struggles and exposing your flaws is not a sign of failure.
It’s actually one of the strongest actions you can take.
How to Do It:
Think About People Who Have Inspired You - I’m sure you have a role model. Someone who makes you believe you can do more than you’re currently doing. What is it about that person that inspires you so? Is it their mediocrity? Probably not. Typically, it’s something outside of what you consider normal. Usually, it’s the fact that they risked part of themselves to offer it up to others. Vulnerability is an interesting thing. We don’t admire people because they are just like us. We admire them because they put themselves out there and showed us what could be if we, too, took the risk.
Be Authentic - Authenticity is the key here. You don’t want to share anything and everything that you think will get you attention from others. That’s not your story: that’s caving to the attention-craving culture created by social media. Do the things that have always been inside of you. Say what you truly believe, and do it over and over again. Write down your top five values, and then write down why you value what you value. Getting clear on who you are is the first step to getting that human connection that you need.
Lesson 3 - No One Is Ever Just One Thing
And while authenticity can feel like you’re exposing your weaknesses and shedding light on your failures, there’s one final lesson here that is crucial to internalize.
When I started opening up about behaviors that I deemed embarrassing, such as my tendency to pick at my skin when very anxious, my mind tried to trick me into thinking that others would only ever view me as that one thing.
But again, that’s what happens when thoughts stay in your mind.
The more I shared about the good and bad of who I am, the more I realized that no one is ever just one thing.
People need to see that you are human. No one is the picture-perfect life they share on Facebook.
We are all victories and failures, great hopes and massive heartbreaks.
To be vulnerable, one also needs to be courageous.
To share shame, one also needs to overcome shame.
It’s a contradiction that you only realize once you start sharing.
How to Do It:
Consider the Dichotomy of Emotions - Think about a time when you or someone else shared something they were ashamed of. Did you feel disgusted and think, “Well now I know everything I need to know about them!” Or did you feel surprised? Enlightened even? We are all complex creatures. Sharing one emotion will always expose another one.
Create a Simple Timeline - Map out your life story in simple terms. Draw a horizontal line, and then map out 5-10 years on that timeline. It doesn’t matter which ones. Once you have your years, choose something memorable from each of those years. Once you’ve done that, step back and look at your creation. What you’ll most likely find is that you are changeable. You are not the child or teenager of your youth. You are a human being who takes in new experiences and creates something out of them. The biggest creation of your life is who you are today.