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How To Share With the World, Even About Mental Illness

How To Share With the World, Even About Mental Illness

My hand jerked back, as if the computer mouse had turned into a real mouse. Would they think I am crazy? Would they whisper behind my back? Would they never trust me again? These anxious thoughts ran through my head as I was about to make a post revealing my mental illness to my Facebook friends.

Whenever the thought of telling others about my mental illness entered my mind, I felt a wave of anxiety pass through me. My head began to pound, my heart sped up, my breathing became fast and shallow, almost like I was suffocating. If I didn’t catch it in time, the anxiety could lead to a full-blown panic attack, or sudden and extreme fatigue, with my body collapsing in place. Not a pretty picture.

For 6 months, I had been suffering from a mood disorder characterized by high anxiety, sudden and extreme fatigue, and panic attacks. I really wanted to share much earlier. It would have felt great to be genuinely authentic with people in my life, and not hide who I am. Plus, I would have been proud to contribute to overcoming the stigma against mental illness in our society, especially since this stigma impacts me on such a personal level.

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My Own Anxiety

Ironically, the very stigma against mental illness, combined with my own excessive anxiety response, made it very hard for me to share. I was really anxious about whether friends and acquaintances would turn away from me. I was also very concerned about the impact on my professional career of sharing publicly, due to the stigma in academia against mental illness, including at my workplace.

Still, I did eventually start discussing my mental illness with some very close friends who I was very confident would support me. And one conversation really challenged my mental map, in other words how I perceive reality, about sharing my story of mental illness.

My friend told me something that really struck me, namely his perspective about how great would it be if all people who needed professional help with their mental health actually went to get such help. One of the main obstacles, as research shows, is the stigma against mental health. We discussed how one of the best ways to deal with such stigma is for well-functioning people with mental illness to come out of the closet about their condition.

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    Well, I am one of these well-functioning people. I have a great job and do it well, have wonderful relationships, and participate in all sorts of civic activities. The vast majority of people who know me don’t realize I suffer from a mental illness.

    Forcing Myself to Think About It

    That conversation motivated me to think seriously through the roadblocks thrown up by the emotional part of my brain. Previously, I never sat down for a few minutes and forced myself to think what good things might happen if I pushed past all the anxiety and stress of telling people in my life about my mental illness.

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    I realized that my mind was just flinching away, scared of the short-term pain of experiencing anxiety and stress of sharing about my condition. This flinching away prevented me from really thinking clearly about the long-term benefits to me and to others of sharing my story of making the kind of difference I wanted to make in the world and being authentic with people in my life. I recognized that I might be falling for a thinking error that scientists call hyperbolic discounting, a reluctance to make short-term sacrifices for much higher long-term rewards.

    To combat this problem, I imagined what world I wanted to live in a year from now – one where I shared about this situation now on my Facebook profile, or one where I did not. This approach is based on research showing that future-oriented thinking is very helpful for dealing with thinking errors associated with focusing on the present.

    In the world where I would share right now about my condition, I would in the short term be anxious about what people think of me after they find out. Anytime I saw someone who found out for the first time, I would be afraid about the impact on that person’s opinion of me. I would be watching her or his behavior closely for signs of distancing from me. And this would not only be my anxiety: I was quite confident that some people would not want to associate with me due to my mental illness. However, over time, this close watching and anxious thinking would diminish. All the people who knew me previously would find out. All new people who met me would learn about my condition, since I would not keep it a secret. I would make the kind of difference I wanted to make in the world by fighting mental stigma in our society. Just as important, it would be a huge burden off my back to not hide myself and be authentic with people in my life. This would be a great benefit to me in the long term.

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    Imagining the Alternative

    I imagined a second world. I would continue to hide my mental health condition from everyone but a few close friends. I would not be making the kind of impact on our society that I knew I would be able to make. I would always have to keep this secret under wraps, and worry about people finding out about it. I would always be stressed about hiding my true self, always worried about people somehow finding out, always and feeling like a hypocrite. Always regretting the chance to make the kind of impact I knew I could make. Moreover, likely people would find out about it anyway, whether if I chose to share about it or some other way, and I would get all the negative consequences later.

    I shuddered when I imagined that kind of life. With that shudder, I knew that the first world was much more attractive to me. So I decided to take the plunge, and made a plan to share about the situation publicly. As part of doing so, I made that Facebook post. I had such a good reaction from my Facebook friends that I decided to make the post publicly available on my Facebook to all, not only my friends. Moreover, I decided to become an activist in talking about my mental condition publicly, as in this essay that you are reading. I also published articles about my condition in prominent academic media channels (Inside Higher Ed and Diverse: Issues In Higher Education) to challenge the stigma against mental illness in academia. I also shared my story with a local newspaper, to raise awareness of mental health and deal with stigma against mental illness.

    What can you do?

    So how can you apply this story to your life? Whether you want to come out of the closet to people in your life about some unpleasant news, or more broadly overcome the short-term emotional pain of taking an action that would help you achieve your long-term goals, here are some strategies.

    1. Consider the world where you want to live a year from now. What would the world look like if you take the action? What would it look like if you did not take the action?
    2. Evaluate all the important costs and benefits of each world. What world looks the most attractive a year from now?
    3. Decide on the actions needed to get to that world, make a plan, and take the plunge. Be flexible about revising your plan based on new information such as reactions from others, as I did regarding sharing about my own condition.

    Featured photo credit: Coming Out via flickr.com

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    Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

    President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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    Last Updated on September 17, 2019

    10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

    10 Simple Ways To Always Think Positive Thoughts

    Positive thinking can lead to a lot of positive change in your life. Developing an optimistic outlook can be good for both your physical and mental health.

    But sometimes, certain situations arise in life that makes it hard to keep a positive outlook. Take steps to make positive thinking become more like your second nature and you’ll reap the biggest benefits.

    Here are 10 ways to make thinking positive thoughts easy:

    1. Spend Time with Positive People

    If you surround yourself with constant complainers, their negativity is likely to rub off on you.

    Spend time with positive friends and family members to increase the likelihood that their positive thinking habits will become yours too. It’s hard to be negative when everyone around you is so positive.

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    2. Take Responsibility for Your Behavior

    When you encounter problems and difficulties in life, don’t play the role of the victim. Acknowledge your role in the situation and take responsibility for your behavior.

    Accepting responsibility can help you learn from mistakes and prevent you from blaming others unfairly.

    3. Contribute to the Community

    One of the best ways to feel good about what you have, is to focus on what you have to give.

    Volunteer in some manner and give back to the community. Helping others can give you a new outlook on the world and can assist you with positive thinking.

    4. Read Positive and Inspirational Materials

    Spend time each day reading something that encourages positive thinking. Read the Bible, spiritual material, or inspirational quotes to help you focus on what’s important to you in life. It can be a great way to start and end your day.

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    Some recommendations for you:

    5. Recognize and Replace Negative Thoughts

    You won’t be successful at positive thinking if you’re still plagued by frequent negative thoughts. Learn to recognize and replace thoughts that are overly negative. Often, thoughts that include words like “always” and “never” signal that they aren’t true.

    If you find yourself thinking something such as, “I always mess everything up,” replace it with something more realistic such as, “Sometimes I make mistakes but I learn from them.”

    There’s no need to make your thoughts unrealistically positive, but instead, make them more realistic.

    6. Establish and Work Toward Goals

    It’s easier to be positive about problems and setbacks when you have goals that you’re working toward. Goals will give you motivation to overcome those obstacles when you encounter problems along the way. Without clear goals, it’s harder to make decisions and gauge your progress.

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    Learn to set SMART goals to help you achieve more.

    7. Consider the Consequences of Negativity

    Spend some time thinking about the consequences of negative thinking. Often, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    For example, a person who thinks, “I probably won’t get this job interview,” may put less effort into the interview. As a result, he may decrease his chances of getting the job.

    Create a list of all the ways negative thinking impacts your life. It likely influences your behavior, your relationships, and your feelings. Then, create a list of the ways in which positive thinking could be beneficial.

    8. Offer Compliments to Others

    Look for reasons to compliment others. Be genuine in your praise and compliments, but offer it frequently. This will help you look for the good in other people.

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    9. Create a Daily Gratitude List

    If you start keeping a daily gratitude list, you’ll start noticing exactly how much you have to be thankful for. This can help you focus on the positive in your life instead of thinking about all the bad things that have happened in the day.

    Getting in the habit of showing an attitude of gratitude makes positive thinking more of a habit. Here’re 40 Simple Ways To Practice Gratitude.

    10. Practice Self-Care

    Take good care of yourself and you’ll be more equipped to think positively.

    Get plenty of rest and exercise and practice managing your stress well. Taking care of your physical and mental health will provide you with more energy to focus on positive thinking.

    Learn about these 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit.

    More About Staying Positive

    Featured photo credit: DESIGNECOLOGIST via unsplash.com

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