If you’re in any one the helping professions you probably have advised those you support to be open with you and share whatever issue(s) they are dealing with. It only makes sense you figure; after all, know what they are dealing with and you can best respond to their needs. Why then I wonder, if this such wise advice, do you and I not then reveal to others that which we are silently dealing with?
All kinds of things come to mind; embarrassment, shame, pride, fear of isolation, rejection, bullying, teasing etc.; take your pick. Of course what you’re dealing with and the environment you are in and the people you might share your personal issues with largely determines how you may or may not proceed.
If you’re dealing with depression for example, you might find yourself going out of your way to be perceived as, ‘up’, friendly, funny and nice to be around. Could be that your circle of friends or co-workers would be surprised to find out you’re depressed and taking medication to stay on the even keel. They mind say, “What you? Depressed? No way. Really? Wow, I’d never have guessed.” While that might be nice, it doesn’t really help you other than to know you’re masking things well and fooling those around you. Is fooling others though what you really want to do?
What if it’s not depression though? You might instead have a criminal record you’re doing your best to keep from being made public. Depending on what it’s all about, you might even worry that it would cost you your current job if it came out publicly. You’re carrying that load and walking around each day hoping it doesn’t catch up with you.
These are the kind of things that affect us in two ways; in and of themselves they impact us and secondly we stress about the impact disclosure would bring upon us. Ironically, you might feel the very fact that it’s your personal secret makes talking about it with someone – anyone – impossible to do as you’ll fret over that person intentionally or accidentally revealing what you want kept private. But if you could tell someone, well, that alone would in another sense be a tremendous relief.
I bet we’d all be surprised and in some cases downright shocked if all the people we met as we go through our days wore visible labels; identifying their demons, secrets and health concerns. While it would be revealing to see what others are really dealing with on a day-to-day basis, how eager or comfortable would you be exposing your own label(s)?
I wonder if it would eventually get to be a non-factor in time if everyone publically advertised their issues? You know, you walk around and in the beginning you’re fascinated and appalled, shocked and surprised. However would we ever get to the point where we’d just say, “Oh yeah…” and think nothing of those labels because they become so commonplace? I imagine we’d rather everyone else publically display their issues and then eventually we might give it a go and reveal some but probably not all of our own issues.
Imagine as an exercise you sat in a group and everyone went up to a table and picked up a number of post-it notes, each with a problem, issue, disease, secret or mental health condition on it. Then these were affixed to the persons top so everyone could see. Imagine too that everyone was free to pick up something they don’t deal with or they could pick up exactly what they are dealing with at the same time; as no one would actually know if the issue was something they lived with or were just picking up for the exercise. Say for the next hour, people just milled around and talked, asked questions, told others how they think they’d feel but said it as if they actually had that ‘thing’ and pretended it was real.
How would you feel if you had a criminal record for real or dealt with depression and you were asked point-blank, “So why did you do it?” or “How do you cope with depression and what’s a bad day look like?” Would you tell the truth or make something up? Would it be a relief to say out loud how you feel knowing that the other person wouldn’t really know if you were being honest with them or taking your best guess as to what that would feel like?
What I’d also think we’d find interesting is to hear someone else wearing a label that we actually deal with talk about it in their words. Would they be accurate or far off the mark? Would it make us feel relieved to be having conversations about our issues in this manner? Would it help or hinder our ability to then have conversations with others when the exercise was over? Hmm….
Whatever you’re dealing with, it’s not like you’re the only one carrying that issue and living with it everyday. Sometimes we can find support and strength from sharing with others who then find the courage themselves to open up.
If you’re not ready to share your personal challenges, that’s okay. When the time comes you’ll recognize the opportunity before you and will have to decide to do so or not. Be it a friend, a best friend or a total stranger, I hope you do.