Tldr. There is more we can say. There is more we each can do.
There has been a recent phenomenon taking over my Facebook page, a series of posts.
They almost always start with tldr, or a disclaimer explaining the need for an honest release.
Tldr — I don’t want to hide.
The posts, without question, always end with a thank you, saying something to the effect of ‘If you read this far.’
As though they are saying, ‘I didn’t expect anyone to care… to read this far.’
Most often, though, those of us reading the posts do care. We do connect. We finish the story. We listen closely to our friends, and we relate to our friends.
Of course, none of these posts are novel. We know what to expect — an admission of a struggle. An admission of an internal battle. Our bravest friends and loved ones sharing stories about anxiety, depression, PTSD and panic attacks. They are talking about eating disorders, self-esteem, loneliness and heartbreak.
They are sharing stories about what it means to be human,
and what it means to need a little extra support. They are finding the strength to say, ‘Right now, when you hug me, hold me in a slightly tighter embrace. Please.’
They are being vulnerable and they are being brave.
Let’s start a movement of everyone being brave. The statistics are clear: our loved ones sharing on facebook are not alone in their struggles.
And they are holding themselves accountable. Most mental health struggles grow and thrive in silence. Many of these conditions are monsters, grey clouds, burrowed into the bodies of our loved ones. These demons convince our loved ones that their authentic voice, and their right to love and joy and confidence, is wrong. They convince our loved ones that speaking out will prove them weak. That they are weak. The fear employers have when aware of mental health struggles in applicants only helps convince our loved ones that they are weak.
My friends who have shared openly, though, are far from weak. They are human, but they are not weak.
Still, I carry an unpopular opinion in saying these posts are not okay.
They are okay in that they offer healing.
But in many ways, these posts are not okay. Because they are a sign of a culture of secrecy and shame. They are a sign that, though we are progressing, we have failed as a society to make honesty and authenticity acceptable. We have painted an image of life without room for human error, and we have created expectations that no one can truly achieve.
We have cornered anyone who is struggling to struggle in silence, because that is more acceptable than the truth. We have cornered even our own patients in the medical field to not disclose psychiatric medication, because they fear ramifications of the world knowing the truth.
But behind every smile, is a journey.
I for one am honored when a friend or patient opens up and allows me into that journey. I am humbled to offer support. I share with patients and families that there are tools out there to help loved ones learn how to better offer support.
There is always a way to help.
So we can continue to post our stories for our friends; and it is important that we do. But it is also, even more important that we tell our stories. A story as simple as heartbreak or exhaustion, or as complex as a diagnosis tells the world it is okay to struggle. And it is okay to reach out for support in times of need. Saying to a neighbor on the street or a friend in a coffee shop, “Listen. I feel ___,” opens a conversation and a world of acceptance for everyone.
The change starts with each of us, and with each small conversation.
When I broke my arm in grade school, I wore a cast in the open. I answered questions about my injury without pause, though with a little blushing. The injury, after all, wasn’t a majestic sports accident but rather a fall while reaching for my socks … where I happened to fall off my bed, spin on my desk chair and land on the floor. There’s not much elegance to the narrative. But I told the story. I showed the blushing. I maintained a normal conversation in a public place, which made discussion of this physical injury — and even my embarrassment about its cause — normal.
This, dare I say ‘movement’ of Facebook posts, from my reading eyes — in comparison to my broken arm — is far too private. And it is a call for change. It is a call for us as a community to discuss mental health openly and in public, personally and authentically — the way Active Minds has been doing on college campuses for years.
Sitting behind a computer, writing a post is brave. It is vulnerable, and it is healing. It is important when so many push through obstacles of work stress every day; when so many use more energy than you could imagine to smile without tears or eat a full lunch; when so many have a past trauma or struggle that they keep inside. No one struggle is harder than another; they are just different. And they are all valid and real.
And yet, a post — or a million — isn’t enough. We are creatures of connection. We are creatures needing touch and interaction. We are humans requiring a true hug, not just a Facebook heart.
We are all able to offer our friends authenticity and a hug.
When I press publish on this post, I am setting the personal challenge to have these conversations without reservation. I am setting a goal of at least one such conversation a day. I am setting a mission to talk about the little stuff and the not-so-pretty stuff so that everyone feels welcome to do the same, and to openly celebrate the little stuff and personally meaningful stuff so that we also never forget to share our stories of strength. I am setting a goal to create a dental office where my patients and their families feel comfortable opening up.
Today, I read a post from a friend, and I was inspired to be a part of a movement towards change. I talked to a patient, and was humbled by his honesty, and I committed again to being part of the change.
I am asking you to think of your loved ones and friends and the person on the bus, and challenge yourself to also be a part of the change.