On rainy days, my sister and I would play hide and go seek. I was really good at finding obscure places and squeezing into them. Once I hid in the coat closet in our front room. I put on one of my Mom’s trench coats and slipped into the shoes that were directly underneath. When “Nickel Pot” whipped the double doors open, I stood as still as a mannequin. She got close enough to where I actually could smell the grape juice that she always had stuck to her face.
Once, I told her that ants would come and try to eat the syrup off of her.
She poked around for a few seconds, sighed loudly, and then slammed the doors shut. I resisted the urge to pop out and say “I won asshole!”, but I decided to stay in there for a little longer.
As I grew older, I got good at hiding other things like booze from my parents and my first tattoo.
Postpartum depression and it’s successor, bipolar disorder.
Coming forward and saying that you have a mental illness is not like admitting that you have diabetes or cancer. It’s one of those illnesses that dangerously teeters on a fine line between acceptance and rejection. The lack of societal awareness, education, and negative portrayals in the media contribute to the damaging stigma that prevents so many souls from reaching out for help. We are labeled as crazy, weak, psycho, deranged, violent, etc. which creates fear in the public. It’s this fear that makes mental illness not readily “worthy” of sympathy, support, and proper and timely medical care that other societal accepted illnesses like cancer receive.
Like you, we with a mental illness are also afraid.
We are afraid of our diagnosis, our treatment plan, and the uncertainty of our future. Above all that, I was more afraid of my loved ones reactions, possible rejections and labels.
That’s why I kept my personal hell hidden from my family (aside from my husband) for years. It took a tremendous amount of energy to control and supress the truth, but like termites, the illness ate away my being from the inside out. It weakened me and my husband to the point where I finally realized that my survival depended on an army.
One day I blasted out of that proverbial closet and shouted, “I won assholes! I am just as crazy as those acid wash jeans that you decide to keep on wearing because they might come back in style some day!”
I was met with wide eyes, mouths agape, held breaths, and minds that scrambled to say something, anything that would be the least uncomfortable.
“I never knew,” they said.
“Why didn’t you tell me?
“So I should probably hide the kitchen knives and the stapler,” my younger brother said jokingly.
In the awkward silence that followed their initial reactions, you could hear their hearts and stomachs fall to the floor. But what rose up above the shock and their fear was immediate love, support, and acceptance.
For the first time in years, I could exist without the façade and I was able to cry.
I just didn’t know that it was always ok to do.
All I had to do was reach out of that closet.
From time to time, I will revert to my old comforting ways and hide the depths of my pain in order to protect them from feeling worried, scared, overwhelmed, frustrated, or helpless.
But unlike my childhood days when I could squeeze myself into obscure places, my suffocating emotions can’t be hidden behind my beautiful ordinary smile.
They find me every single time.
*If you are suffering from a mental illness, please do not travel this road alone. Put your hand out and you’ll be surprised at who grabs it.