Diving into work, coming up only to breathe.
A magazine quality profile picture.
An immaculate front lawn.
A spotless home.
A 4th drink in your hand.
A joke on your lips.
A text message instead of a call.
A 3 times edited facebook status.
We have “reality” shows, and viral videos. We have phone apps that allow us to confess deep, dark secrets, without the accountability of our name attached. We take selfies, posting only the prettiest ones, and write on walls.
We are experts at hiding behind our carefully constructed images, but we long for just a little bit of uninhibited truth. Just a little bit though, because too much makes us rather uncomfortable. We want to watch from a distance, so we can laugh, so we can judge. It’s great entertainment, but it doesn’t affect us beyond the minute or two we watch it on a screen.
At least, that’s what we pretend.
We are a society that loves to hide, and if you suffer from mental illness, you are probably an expert.
You lean back against your dresser drawers and stare at the floor. A stretched out rectangle of sunlight makes each fiber of your worn beige carpet visible, highlights the tiny hairs on your big toe. Your finger nails dig into your palms, they may even break skin. You want to slam your window shut, so you don’t have to hear the laughing voices, the snapping of flip flops, the clicking of 12 speed bikes outside.
As your friends and classmates have a blast, you spend this hot summer evening alone in your room, wishing you could disappear. Part of you is wondering if any of them wonder where you are, part of you is trapped, praying in a compulsive manner.
“Please, deliver me from evil, dear Lord. Please protect us from harm. Please forgive my sins, in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen. Amen. ”
You inhale as deeply as you can. The air seems to get caught in your throat, and you gag. If only you could take one proper breath, maybe you’d feel better. You seem to have forgotten how.
You close your window, draw the curtains. Safely hidden, you sob into your pillow until merciful sleep takes over.
20 years later, you lean back in your cool plastic chair and stare at your lap. Your anxiety group therapist turns out the lights. You relax your clenched fists, and focus on her instructions. Together with the other group members, you listen to her count, and breathe. You inhale as deeply as you can. The air seems to get caught in your throat, and you gag.
That’s okay, you get to try again. Your therapist is here to help, and you are not alone. Inhale: 1-2-3-4, Hold it: 1-2-3-4, Exhale: 1-2-3-4… You are doing it. The lights come on, and you listen to a group member who reminds you of your Dad share a success from his week.
Your turn comes. With a shaky voice and tears on your cheeks, you explain how you have a hard time being spontaneous. You usually reject all activities unless they are planned well in advance. This week though, you took your daughters swimming at a friend’s pool with only 20 minutes notice. It was a whole lot of fun, your husband was proud, and once you got there, you weren’t anxious at all.
As you speak, you feel grateful for the looks of understanding from the other group members.
There’s no need to hide here.
You feel proud, instead of ashamed.
If only it could always be this way.
We are a society that loves to hide, because we fear things we don’t understand. Fortunately, we are also quite curious by nature, and ever so slowly, we are gaining understanding of what mental illness really is. We post supportive statements on our facebook wall, we participate in walks for children’s mental health, we show our support for campaigns like tomorrow’s “Let’s Talk” by BELL.
We have a long way to go, but at least we have started.
The truth cannot remain hidden forever.
Understanding will slowly break down stigma.
Love will slowly replace judgement and fear.
Come out, come out, wherever you are hiding.
Be Brave, and Talk.