Learning to be honest about (my) mental illness

Even the darkest night can be beautifulI’ve been struggling to write this post for most of this week, and it’s not because I don’t have anything to say. It’s because I have everything to say, and I believe every part of this conversation is so important.

It’s because right now, I know many are struggling with depression brought on or exacerbated by current events. I would be lying if I said recent politics didn’t have a negative impact on my own depression.

It’s also because so many of these people are fighting for progress, even in the face of tyranny. These people have made it clear that they will not be silenced, that they will stand together and do whatever it takes to create a better future.

But most importantly, I know many people who have put themselves through mental and emotional turmoil to be part of this fight. Over the past two days I’ve seen many incredible images of activism and solidarity, but I’ve also seen dozens of women talk about how exhausting and sometimes triggering the Women’s Marches were. Some of these women spent days or even weeks hyping themselves up for the event. Some of my friends still found the idea too daunting come the 21st.

In some ways, sharing how much the marches exhausted them is the bravest thing these women did. The stigma against mental illness is an incredibly powerful force. It shames us into silence, sometimes so much that we don’t even think about seeking treatment. Often we don’t get as far as admitting to ourselves that there’s a problem at all. We push ourselves to seem normal until we break, and we either find a way to get better or die.

Our stories have power. Talking openly about our struggles with mental illness and the ways we push through the pain, the ways we take care of ourselves and make ourselves better, this is an essential and radical act. It is the first step not only to ending the stigma against mental illness, but also to our own personal healing.

For most of us it is also one of the most difficult things we’ll ever do. When I first started blogging, I didn’t tell anyone I knew about the blog. Partially this was out of a stubborn need to have my first subscribers/commenters not be related to me, but it also allowed me to be open about my struggles.

Inevitably some of the people I wanted to hide the truth from found my work, and I clammed up. I stopped telling personal stories and focused entirely on the writing.

There are all sorts of reasons why people – and authors in particular – choose not to share their personal stories online, but if I’m honest with myself there’s only one reason why I stopped sharing my own stories: I was struggling, and I was afraid to be honest about it. Especially with my family.

I don’t know if there was a precise moment, but sometime in late 2015 or early 2016 I decided the fear couldn’t win anymore. I write fantasy novels I say are for young(ish) adults, and if there’s any message I want to leave my readers with, it’s that they are powerful because of who they are, not in spite of it. And they can change the world, if they are willing to push through the fear.

So here’s the truth: I’m still struggling with depression and suspect I always will be to some extent, but I am pushing through the fear and the pain every single day. The stories I’m working on now are some of the most powerful I’ve ever written, and I am incredibly proud of them, but it’s been slow going because I can sometimes get too immersed in the darkness of my characters.

I’ve also decided that it’s time to start sharing more of my own stories with the world, not just the stories of my characters. These stories may be the most painful of all – there’s a reason I write alternate world fiction – but they matter. Every story is an opportunity to help someone see mental illness in a new way, to see humanity in a new way.

And what more could I hope for than that?

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9 thoughts on “Learning to be honest about (my) mental illness

  • This was a very brave post. I appreciate you sharing. I struggle with depression and anxiety as well as some other mental illnesses and understand how hard it is to talk about and at the same time how important it is to talk about it. It looks like you are going in a direction that is healthy for you. I wish you luck on your journey!

    • dlgunn

      Hi Amy, thanks for stopping by! I’ve received an enormous outpouring of support since I wrote this post–mostly on Twitter–and I can’t express how grateful I am, or how sorry I am about the sheer number of people going through this exact struggle right now. But together, we can make it through, and it all starts with this sharing. Especially when it hurts.

  • Thank you for writing this. This is such an important thing to say. I’m still in the nervous to share boat.

    I tried to go to the march, I walked down to the location, close enough to see the people, had a panic attack, turned around and left. But at that people there were people dispersing and they were crushing amounts of them. Which, yay! And also I very seriously considered going and hiding in a bathroom at one of the nearby businesses until the crush was over, though that would have likely been hours, which was what convinced me it was better to just suck it up and brave the masses to go home. I’ve had more panic attacks in the last couple weeks than I have in the last couple years. I’d been doing really good, so good, so very good. But now?

    I don’t know anymore, and I’ve been feeling so lost. It helps to hear I’m not alone, so thank you, very much. This is incredibly important.

    • dlgunn

      Hi Mariah, thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you did your best to get out there, and I’m really sorry it turned into a panic attack. Personally I slept through it because I was ill, but even healthy it would have been a huge debate–I get insanely claustrophobic in crowds like that, and when I panic, I get violent.

      It may feel like we’re lost or fighting a losing battle right now, but so long as we stick together, we can get through this. I’m always here if you need to talk–feel free to email diannalgunn@gmail.com

      • Thank you. You’re absolutely right about getting through it on the long term. It just seems so easy to forget that when you hear about one thing that should be completely and totally devastating, but instead of being able to properly react you have someone on the other side, saying Oh and you totally missed this other also horrible thing. And they just stack up. It’s nearly impossible to keep up. And I have a job. And writing. And a podcast. I don’t have time. And part of me thinks that’s the plan. Just throw out so much stuff so fatigue and overwhelmed happens.

        Thank you for the offer, I really appreciate it.

        • dlgunn

          Oh, it’s definitely a plan–keep the masses overworked and underpaid so they don’t have time or energy to flourish or fight back against the oppressive regime. Make them pay exorbitant amounts for their own health so they can’t afford to start businesses or get properly educated. I could go on for days.

          The important part is we’re on to them, and we’ll put in however much energy we can to fight it–even if it’s only a tiny amount, the power of the masses adds up.

    • I think you should be really proud of yourself for making the effort! Especially when it is such a hard thing! Sorry you are having anxiety. I know how crippling it can be, but really I’m impressed that you braved going at all. You had a valid reason to not even try. Pat yourself on the back!

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