Monday, July 20, 2015

Let's Stop Faking It

The last week or so has seen an uptick in the Semicolon Project and the connected hashtag #semicolonEDU. As an educator with many present conversations about mental health, it has become increasingly important for me, personally and professionally, to step up to the conversation plate. 

Mental illness, unlike physical illness, seems complicated by people's desire (in everyday ways) to "fix" what is wrong. There seems to be some notion that people can "choose" their way out of mental illness where no one would even postulate that someone with a broken leg could possibly "Just think positively! Think of not broken legs!" to "get over it". 
The endless parade of well-intentioned but maliciously harmful cheerleading makes the temptation to "fake it" undeniable. Putting on a facade, however, exacerbates the situation in all fronts.

After all, if you are not your genuine true self--mental illness and all--how is your relationship with anyone established? What is the level of mistrust that must inherently exist if you fear reprisal for revealing yourself? What shame do you perpetuate upon your own psyche by not allowing the other person to choose for themselves how they will respond to your illness? And what a relief it might be to find that it is you, in your entirety, they may cherish in the end. That, given the ability to walk away, they choose to stay. 

 When I began therapy, I did so without telling anyone else. No one else was aware of how much I was hurting, no one else knew how deeply I wounded myself, no one knew how thin the thread of my connectedness was.

About three months into it, the therapist asked why I hadn't told my husband and what I feared by revealing the truth of my illness, the width of the chasm. My heart raced at the very notion. I was so good at hiding, so adept at throwing up bald-faced distractors, could I really let my vulnerabilities come forward? But if not with my husband, with whom could I entrust myself? 

I was petrified to see the range of emotions I thought would play across his face. Could I handle seeing disgust, revulsion, rejection? But we couldn't continue this way either. If he didn't know me as I truly was, wasn't my marriage a sham anyway? A mockery of what I had promised him in our wedding vows? It took another month, at least, to tell him.

It was mostly wordless. I showed him and braced myself. At first, brow furrowed in confusion, he didn't understand. He couldn't correlate my state of being with the facade of my life. And he was startled at the relevelation. Shocked, even. 

But what he didn't do was show disgust or revulsion. He scooped me closer and held me gently. And his tenderness shredded me and made me whole. 

It is a journey of infinitesimally small steps forward, out of the darkness. Although the carefully layered front may never disappear entirely, stripping myself down to the stark and scary truth feels like an ultimate necessity. 

Society needs to know that the boldness of my revelations about mental illness are what make me strong, make me a good mother, and engage the core of my pedagogy as an educator. 

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