Depression and Anxiety: How Sharing Your Story Changes Everything
*Image by the amazing Meri Daugherty
I hid my mental illness for a long time.
I thought it was my dirty little secret. Then, one day I fessed up to a few strangers online and received an abundance of supportive messages, helpful advice, and heartfelt comments. I had my own little #metoo moment. I realized the power of sharing my story, right then. Others had generously shared theirs with mine, aligning themselves with my struggle. It was like an instantly familiar sisterhood. So, I took another step forward and penned a few words and wrote a blog post about my own journey and nervously clicked publish. The response was incredible. Women who I’d seen as having it all together spoke about their battle with depression. And about how hard it had been keeping it in the dark. One man emailed me and said that his wife had suffered from depression and he wished he’d known the things he knew now - so that he could have better supported her. Others sent messages simply saying thanks - thank you for bringing this out into the open. I was shocked by the amount of people who resonated with my story. I was saddened that I wasn’t the only one who had been hiding it. I was grateful that now we had our own instantly familiar sisterhood.
There are many reasons we may feel the need to hide a mental illness.
We may worry about how people will respond if we tell them what’s going on. We may have been rejected in the past by those who haven’t been able to understand. Or wounded by those who said the wrong thing - even those genuinely hoping to help. But there's power in sharing our story - not only for others but for ourselves too. When I shared about my battles, the responses received and the instant connection it brought was such a comfort to me. Now, I knew that I really wasn’t alone. And it felt fantastic to know that by sharing my story, I’d helped others in some small way.
And it’s not only for those who can relate. Sharing your story also helps others - who may not have walked the same path - learn and understand a little more of what it's like for those who have and who are there right now. Most of my friends and family members haven’t (thankfully) suffered through a mental illness. And many of them (thankfully) wanted to learn about what it was like for me, so they could better support me as I walked the path back to health. Because really, how will they know unless we tell them? How will they understand if we don’t share our story with them? How will they help if we don’t invite them along on the journey?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should go and tell everyone the intricate details of what’s going on in our heads.
Some peeps just won’t be able to deal with that. And that’s ok. It’s important that we understand that it’s ok that some people just won’t be able to support us through our mental health battles. And we have to decide how to respond to that (hopefully with grace and love - and remembering that different relationships are great in their own unique ways!).
We need to find our crew - the ones who are safe and who love us and who are open and willing to learn alongside us. They may have struggled with their own mental health - or they may not have. Reality is that all experiences are different and we’re all learning from each other anyway. And while we’d love to have everyone support us and say just the right thing when we need them to, they may not, despite their best efforts. Friend, this is where grace comes in. We might need to just let it slide when they make a comment that hurts - and mention it later, explaining that it obviously came from a good place but probably isn’t super helpful. Remember: we’re all doing our best - including those around us. If this person is a safe place for you, you’ll still need to give them generous helpings of grace on the days when they’re just not feeling the mojo.
Alternatively, other people may not be so safe to share with. It’s up to us to know when and how to share - and with whom. You’ve gotta know when to hold em…. Know when to fold em…. Know when to walk away…. Know when to run….. (sorry - now I’m just getting distracted). But it’s all done with grace, right? Because none of us are perfect - and we’re all learning.
Ultimately, all of this helps us learn how to be a safe place for others.
We know what hurts and what helps. We know that thoughtful text messages and random kind words make a world of difference. We know that sometimes just listening to someone spill their thoughts and feelings is the greatest gift in the world. These lessons that allow us too, to be someone’s safe place.
And one way we can do that is by sharing our story (obviously not when they’re sharing theirs - that wouldn’t be good. Active listening, anyone?) But seriously. Will you share your story? Will you say ‘me too’? Will you put it out there - the good, the bad and the ugly and not just the instagram edits? Are you willing to give yourself, your struggles and your scars an opportunity to do some healing? Healing within you - and healing within others?
Go on, I dare you. You’ve got a powerful gift right there. Be bold. Be brave. Be extravagantly generous.
Joni Leimgruber lives in Sydney with her husband and their three children. Having walked through depression and many of life’s curveballs, Joni is addicted to allowing others that #metoo moment by sharing her stories on her website and Instagram (and not just the edits!). She loves coffee - cinnamon cappuccino, anyone? - and dreams of one day being able to maintain a lovely set of manicured, neat and classy nails. It’s a work in progress.