May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’m sure a lot of you noticed a lot of posts about mental health on May 1st. I know my feed was full of people openly talking about their stories. I’m a little late to the party because I’ve been thinking about what to say.
I appreciate “health focused” holidays like this because it creates socially accepted opportunities to talk about things that aren’t always socially accepted, but that’s also why I dislike them. I want us to be able to talk about them all the time, not just when it’s scheduled.
I have a counting app on my phone because I’m awful with time. I originally thought to write that I started talking about my mental health a few years ago, but it wasn’t a few years ago. It was almost a decade ago. And it was seven years ago I started intentionally sharing it online consistently. It was about three years ago I started talking about it at work and last year when I mentioned it in job interviews.
I’ve been met with a variety of comments, opinions and we’ll call it feedback when I share online.
I had people tell me that they liked me better when I was happy and posting happy things like adventures with my partner at the time or my workouts. What was hard about this was that I wasn’t happy all the time – you all saw a very curated version of me. I was always me in those posts, but still selective. I was embarrassed by my PTSD. And I know the language I choose to use also reflects a weird sense of ownership in that diagnosis even though it happened to me, not caused by me.
I was also told that I was making it up, that it was performative to share so openly and I wanted attention. Invisible illnesses, whether physical, emotional or mental are real and when we lead with skepticism we keep people in dark spaces where they feel safer being quiet.
There’s been comments in between where people have used my words and experiences in an attempt to hurt me, make me feel less than and in some cases see if they could push me to hurt myself.
In 2017, I “abruptly” took a social media break and it lasted for about 500 days.
I figured the relationships I had online that were real would translate into my real life off of my phone, and I was right. The people I had connected with who truly liked me for more than my follower count continued to talk with me. We built deeper relationships than our original connections. And those who invested in online clout fell off, never checked in and when I came back acted as though they missed me.
I hated that I took the break.
I felt like I was a failure because I couldn’t be stronger than the DM’s and emails I received. The truth is though, my ability to put myself first even, though I knew it would be detrimental to growing my coaching business and my blog, was a reflection of my strength at the time, and I’ve only grown from there.
In the past 11-12 years since I started sharing my journey, you all have seen me in and out of two big relationships. These absolutely have played a role in the boundaries I create and how I hold them, what I want out of life and what I actively avoid and remove. You’ve seen me change careers and go back to school. You’ve seen me start my own journey and then lean into my ability to help others with theirs. You’ve seen me explore my Jewishness and how that feels hard for me at times. You’ve seen me become more open about my politics, ethics and values – which can be scary, but is also vital to me.
You’ve seen me share less because ultimately this is my life and not yours. I have invited you to the party and I’ve also shut it down from time to time.
Parasocial relationship: a one-sided relationship formed when one party extends energy, interest, and time and the other person doesn’t know they exist.National Register of Health Services Psychologists
Creating space for myself and others to connect and authentically share has been an important part of my own healing journey. When we hear and meet others that have had experiences similar to ours it helps us feel and be less alone. It helps us consider other perspectives so we can process our experiences more fully and with less judgement. It also normalizes the conversation and removes blame from those who had traumas happen to them.
When I talk about mental and emotional health now, I have some attachment to those labels because I want to show that the face of PTSD or anxiety or an eating disorder isn’t always how you (or I) think it should look. I also want to reiterate in those conversations that healing is continuous and looks different every day.
Healing won’t always be understood and it doesn’t need to be. Your healing is about you. And if you’re watching someone heal, remember that it’s going to look messy sometimes and you may be confused, but it’s not about you.