On the Stigma of Mental Illness and Being Anonymous

In my first post as Difficult Grl, I’d like to address the elephant in the room. I’m writing this anonymously.

Why? Because being open about my mental illness would change how people perceive me. I mean, maybe it wouldn’t. But I don’t really want to take the risk of finding out.

The reality is, we still live in a world where depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders are seen at best as a lack of mental fortitude and at worst as a whole lot of crazy. Which is completely ridiculous, if you ask me, since one in five people in this country live with a mental illness. God, we are repressed.

The even bigger tragedy: when we feel like we’re hiding a big secret from the rest of the world, the feelings and behaviors associated with poor mental health–isolating ourselves from others, feeling an increased sense of loneliness, feeling helpless to change our lives for the better–are amplified.

In other words, my depression and anxiety are made worse by being unable to talk about my depression and anxiety.

Also off limits: all of the things from my past that have made me the way I am and all the things I’m doing now to try to get over it.

Now isn’t that a shit sandwich. And enough to make me feel like no one knows me at all.

When you’re keeping such a big secret, it can feel impossible to ask for help. Here are just a few things I’ve wanted to ask my Facebook friends in the past week:

  • What is Adderall supposed to feel like?
  • Do you know a local counselor who knows something about dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)?
  • Where can I get my prescriptions filled cheaply without health insurance?
  • Do you know any organizations looking for someone like me? My current job is bad for my mental health.
  • Why is it so hard to exercise on antidepressants?

But did I ask real people any of these questions? Of course not. I asked Google instead. Because most people don’t know I’m depressed and anxious.

My boss didn’t–until a few months ago when I had to take medical leave to seek treatment. (Thankfully he responded by telling me that he himself has dealt with depression and anxiety. But my shame and humiliation were not dampened very much by that disclosure. Thanks, jerk brain.)

If only we lived in a world where 20 percent of people could be honest about themselves without having to fear the reactions of the other 80 percent.

If only people with mental illness were treated like people with diabetes: as having a medical condition caused by a combination of biology and environment that should be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

Until we get there, I probably won’t talk openly about my mental illness with anyone other than family, close friends, and my peer supports.

I do want to talk about it anonymously with other people who struggle with their mental health. That’s why I started this blog.

Is your mental illness a secret? If you do talk openly about it, what has your experience been like? I want to know.

— Difficult Grl

P.S. If you have answers to any of the questions on my list, I would selfishly love you to share that, too.