When I was attending college, I knew that I had some issues. Maybe others could sense it as well, but I didn’t formally disclose it to them. I attempted to remain a happy-go-lucky girl and tuck my mental illness away so nobody would know about it. I would even hope to forget about it, but I couldn’t.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I really became vocal about my mental illnesses. Before that, I was very private and ultimately embarrassed about my struggles. However, there was no need to be.
That being said, it’s okay if you have a mental illness and aren’t always open about it. It’s okay if you’re never open about it to the public — but if you realize that you have an illness, seek help. You don’t have to disclose your issues to anyone that you don’t choose to. Only those who will be involved in your recovery need to know this aspect of your life. Your day-to-day agenda can go on as normal, or at least as normal as possible.
There has been progress made over the last decade about how those with mental illnesses are treated. The stigma has been reduced, but not eliminated altogether. There is still much to learn about mental illnesses and reducing the stigma surrounding them.
I was convinced that if I had come out with the fact I had a mental illness in college, I would be labeled as the “weirdo,” the “outcast,” the “strange” girl, the “crazy” girl. No, that just wouldn’t do for me. So I remained quiet. I suffered in silence. I was too stubborn to even seek help from a professional. I should have, but I can’t change the past.
I was essentially in denial about my mental health status. I was sick and I needed to get better, but college came first. I needed to get straight A’s in my classes, I needed to keep up with the social life, and I needed to blend in with all the other new freshmen on campus. — but all of that shouldn’t have been high up on my priority list. Had I focused on my mental health first, everything else would have fallen into place. I probably wouldn’t have needed to study so hard to pass tests, I probably wouldn’t have had to attend so many parties to feel like I fit in, and I probably wouldn’t have felt like I needed to try to blend in because I was doing it naturally without a second thought. It truly is amazing what happens when you take care of yourself first.
That being said, just because you’re taking care of yourself does not mean you need to disclose how you’re doing so to everyone on campus. You are allowed a private life, even if you’re sharing a dorm with hundreds of other people. You do not have to share everything with your roommate, just because you have one. You are entitled to privacy, even in a busy place like college.
If you choose to disclose your mental illness with others, whether it be friends, family, or co-workers, be prepared for potential counter-arguments or negative comments. Not everyone may agree with your diagnosis. Not everyone may accept your diagnosis. Not everyone has to, but you do. You have to agree and accept your diagnosis in order to get better. While certain people have a negative connotation with mental illness, keep in mind that there are growing communities and organizations ready to support and empower you. It can definitely help to share your condition with those who are close to you, and some people choose to share with the whole world — but it’s ultimately up to you and your comfort zone about how you disclose, who you disclose to, and when you disclose.
Everyone has something significant going on in their life that they choose to be private about. It may not be a mental illness, but everyone has something that they decide not to share. It may be due to a stigma or fear — it doesn’t really matter why. Just know that everyone has something on their plate and they may not choose to tell you about it, just like you may not choose to tell them about the monster in your life.
Whatever you choose, know that you are not alone and that there are definitely others out there like you with a mental illness, should you choose to seek them out. When you are ready, they will be here for you, disclosed illness to the world or not.