Continuing to Show Real Feelings
by See Change Ambassador, Claire Kane
The importance of continuing the conversation about mental health
It’s a cliché, yes, but cliché’s are often just that because they are true: admitting you are living with mental health difficulties is the hardest part. Once you begin the conversations, it gets easier to have them and continuing to talk about it is just as vital as the first time you said the words to yourself or aloud. There are two reasons why continuing to show real feelings is important: it helps you manage your mental wellbeing and it helps to reduce the stigma of talking about mental health.
Bottling up hurts
My mental health story involves depression, anxiety and eating disorders, and with them for quite some time, a pile of secrecy and shame. I believe now that my eating disorder developed from a low-level anxiety that I didn’t know how to express through words or any other healthy means. For years I hid my emotions about various things, and then I hid my eating disorder, and then I hid my acute anxiety and depression. Years and years of “I’m grand”, “I’m just tired” and “I’m a bit stressed but I can handle it” resulted in an implosion so destructive my memory of that period of my life is actually quite patchy. Looking back on it now, I can see that stigma was the reason I was afraid to open up. The world had taught me that it was more commendable to pretend you weren’t hurting, to soldier on, to not cause a fuss or worry.
By the time I was 21 I couldn’t hide the fact that I was living with mental health difficulties from those closest to me. It was consuming me. I was getting help and support but I still carried my depression, anxiety and eating disorders around with me like a shameful burden. It felt like this big secret I had to live with and that stopped me from truly getting to a place where managing my mental health was possible. It wasn’t until I got to the age of 27 and I used therapy to learn how to articulate myself that I start to be really honest about my experiences.
Opening up heals
I started mentioning things in relevant conversation with friends and colleagues online and “in real life” and realised it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I didn’t receive the judgement I expected and, in fact, many people experienced similar things to me. That was a huge part of my healing process, knowing that others had the same seemingly irrational thoughts and feelings as I did.
Once I started those real-life, out-of-the-therapy-room conversations, the penny dropped. If my disorders initially developed because I was bottling my feelings up, expressing them was surely an effective way to manage my symptoms. Bringing the authenticity and honesty I felt comfortable with in the therapy room into my whole life was a groundbreaking move.
I know now that when anxiety gets on top of me, I don’t have to soldier on to the point of implosion or explosion, I can stop. I can take breaks. I can cancel plans and I don’t have to make up an excuse because my anxiety disorder is no longer something that I feel ashamed about. I also know that expressing my real feelings, even if it’s uncomfortable, is better for me because bottling it up only results in anxiety or could put me at risk of relapsing on one of my disordered habits around food.
Furthermore, it just feels like I’m free now, being able to talk openly. I don’t feel the need to keep secrets anymore.
Opening up helps
The best thing about being honest about your feelings and talking frankly about your experiences with mental health though? It’s the fact that it helps other people feel less alone and alienated. Knowing that doing something as simple as expressing your feelings can help people makes it so much easier to keep talking.
Every time I’ve mentioned that I hadn’t been feeling great or that my anxiety was flaring up online I have had at least two “thank you’s” from people who felt the same. In a world where we see people continually presenting us with their highlight reels, that rawness of someone saying “I’m actually not ok and that’s totally fine right now” can mean so much to someone who is also not coping as well as it would appear everyone else is.
Being honest about your experiences and keeping things real can encourage someone else to share their feelings or their story. It becomes a beautiful cycle of sharing and supporting that, at each turn, erodes the shame and stigma attached to living with mental ill health or mental health difficulties.
Your feelings and experiences matter far more than you can even imagine. So, if you’ve shared your story, I ask you to keep sharing it. If you’ve experienced the relief of expressing your real feelings, I ask you do it next time too. You’ll not only feel better yourself but you could be helping someone else without even realising.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following