“I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are!”
These powerful words form part of Mary Lambert’s “Secrets.” I listened to the song with my seven-year-old son in the car, and he piped up from the backseat, “If everyone knows what her secrets are, they aren’t really secrets, are they?” I told him that’s the point. I understand where Mary is coming from as an artist because it’s where I’m coming from as a writer too. I have written openly about my struggles with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. I have done so deliberately, for a number of reasons.
Sharing my story helps me fight isolation. I don’t want anyone to feel alone – I certainly don’t want to feel alone in my struggles – so writing is my way of using the buddy system. Because there can be an incredible amount of shame and embarrassment when dealing with mental illness, it’s often easier to open up if you see someone else share their story. When I write, it’s me going first. I go first so someone can print out what I wrote and save it when they need encouragement. I go first so someone can forward it and ask someone, “Hey, I’m having a hard time with this too. Can you help me?” Hearing someone else open up about a similar struggle is also reaffirming. It helps validate your own experiences. It reminds you that you’re struggling with a real illness and that other people have it too. It reminds you that there is treatment available and that hope is real.
Sometimes everything isn’t fine, and that comes through in what I write too. I can’t face the world with a smile as fake as cheese in a can. That’s just not who I am. I am no preservatives, unfiltered, unapologetic, and real. I want people to trust me, and that involves telling the truth about where I’ve been and where I am. I don’t want to contribute to a culture that only shows the highlight reel. Why? People will have a hard time relating to me if they think I’m perfect. I’m not offering anyone my true self in concealing my difficulties. We learn from the things we struggle against; we learn about each other and ourselves. Hiding the darkness that comes before the light is like being a travel writer who only talks about the destination. We all know the substance and the real work happened in the journey.
Being open about the things I have trouble with can give hope to people who are experiencing similar adversity. My greatest success as a writer has been in writing about the things I’m passionate about, one of which is recovery. You can develop an eating disorder, have panic attacks, suffer from depression, and still find help. I’m proof that you can do all that and hold down a job, raise a baby, get an education, and help other people. There is life – abundant, exuberant life – after darkness. Writing about what I’ve experienced can help prove that to be true.
Given the stigma surrounding mental health issues, it can feel impossible to share part of your story. In keeping my secret struggles or triumphs hidden, I feel like I would be endorsing the view that mental illness is something to be ashamed of, and it’s just not. I’m sharing part of my story in a healthy way because I refuse to keep it in the dark.
So no, I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are.