Just breathe in and breathe out. That’s what I kept telling myself when I was diagnosed with depression in October. I could not believe that this was happening to me, at the time I thought this diagnosis was going to take over and subsequently ruin my life. I was sure people would know just by looking at me and they would start avoiding me or judging me for an imbalance in my brain that I couldn’t even control. Above everything else I was scared.
I kept my diagnosis a secret for a long time, even from my parents and sister and some of my closest friends. I was sure that if I told them I would become a disappointment in their eyes or someone they would have to tread lightly around. I did not want my relationships with these people to change so I remained silent. It wasn’t until the Jack Project Summit in February that I really realized how amazing and inspiring it is when someone has the courage to share their mental health story. During the summit we were discussing the issue of stigmatization in groups and as part of something I was saying I had to say “I have depression” to give context. It was the scariest and most relieving thing I think I have ever done. As soon as I said it I looked around the table and everyone was nodding sympathetically and a wave of relief and calm washed over me. I felt as though even through that small action of voicing my diagnosis to these few people made them feel more comfortable expressing themselves around me.
After the summit I was inspired to do more but I decided that I didn’t want people to think that I was just looking for attention (as much as I try I can’t completely not care what others may think). So one afternoon when I was sitting in class and my professor, whom up until that point I had absolutely loved and respected, said that mental illness limits one’s ability to be competent. I was shocked. I could not believe that a woman that I had come to really like could possibly say something like that. I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to share my story while expressing my utter disgust for that statement. After class I went home and carefully crafted my Instagram post:
I was so scared to post this because I still thought that this would cause people to react negatively or it would change their view of me. However the polar opposite thing happened. The post was flooded with comments filled with love and support from my family and friends, I had never felt more cared for. Then a close friend of mine texted me and said
“Just wanted to let you know how admirable and inspiring your Instagram post was today...its way harder to talk about when its yourself struggling and your post is pushing me to feel more comfortable”.
A girl that I just knew from class also reached out and said; “I'm super proud of your post and I know we don't know each other a lot but I'm always here for you if you need to talk or vent or anything … it’s nice to see someone being so brave”. I was astounded that these people went out of their way to contact me directly and tell me that just by sharing my story I had made them feel more accepted and comfortable with what they are each struggling with. I was and am extremely humbled to know what a massive impact just sharing my story with a small circle of people can have on them and on me.
I found out that sharing my story only had positive effects for me. I felt less stressed about keeping my diagnosis and medication a big secret, I no longer had to make up excuses for why I couldn’t get out of bed and I just felt better seeing the messages of love and support I received. If more people shared their stories too, even just to their circle of friends, then the conversation that needs to be more present around mental health would be sparked. People would be more comfortable opening up and subsequently getting help and perhaps their lives would be improved through this one small act, I know mine was.
- Maggie Kent, Community Champion