by Sarah Moxham
This story is part of our blog series called “Stories from the OCD Community.” Stories from the community are submitted and edited by Toni Palombi. If you are interested in sharing your story you can view submission details at www.iocdf.org/ocd-stories.
Why do we feel guilt sharing our mental health stories?
For those living with mental illness, it is just as much a part of our lives as the air we breathe and the food we eat. Yet, it is so hard for many to discuss this part of their life.
Dealing with any level of mental illness is an emotionally and physically exhausting experience. Enduring treatment and working toward recovery requires perseverance, strength and courage — but the bravest feat of them all is sharing that story. The stories of those who battle with mental illness are incredibly powerful yet such stories often go unheard.
In an era where mental health stigma is being challenged, it is easy for some to assume that the conversations around mental health are just as effortless as posting well-curated content of your most recent meal. However, conversations about mental health are far from effortless.
When faced with answering the question “how are you?” it’s hard to give an honest answer. As supportive as the people around us may be, there is a level of guilt and shame that is associated with answering “I’m not okay.”
Even in the empowering spotlight of sharing your story, there is a shadow. In that shadow lives the guilt of sharing. The guilt of feeling like a disappointment, unstable, a burden on your friends and family. It is almost impossible not to feel the shame of realizing that there are some things you cannot do as a result of your mental illness. It is often impossible to remind yourself that it is okay to set emotional and mental boundaries. For example: how you spend your time, the relationships you develop and what activities you find most fulfilling.
So how do we tackle this guilt? Just as the road to recovery requires hundreds of baby steps that result in hundreds of tiny victories, so too does the path to overcoming guilt and sharing your story.
There is no need to apologize for having a mental illness, for struggling on days when other people aren’t, for sometimes needing space and time alone. You do not need to feel sorry for setting boundaries especially when you need space. Most often, it is the things that make us different that highlight how special we are.
Dealing with mental illness can offer a powerful perspective: it may make you more appreciative of little successes throughout the day, enable you to withstand pressure, and offer emotional fortitude.
We often look to those who have struggled and have endured impossible things to be a beacon of hope. We seek strength in those around us and are encouraged by the bravery of others. The bravery of those who battle mental illness every day is without question, and so is the strength and courage told in their stories.
Sarah Moxham is a graduate student who aspires to become a professor.