The Recovering Farmer

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Coming Out of the Closet

I knew that would get your attention. And no, it is not what you think. You see, we have these preconceived notions about certain words or phrases, but I will leave that for another day.

I will, on occasion, refer to my secret life, a life in a closet. I was a closet smoker because smoking was a sin and a big no-no in the home I grew up in. I was a closet drinker for years. Again, a big no-no for more than religious reasons. When it became more of a crutch, I did not want people to know how much I drank. I was in the closet with my mental health issues because of the stigma attached to it.

I suspect most of us have closets we hide in. There are things we live with or experience that we often feel others wouldn’t get or understand.

I have a notion that with the ongoing and increasing awareness around mental health there are those that would like to talk about it but still struggle due to the stigma, mired in a secret life hiding in the closet. Why? Because we are filled with guilt, because we feel shame, because our self-esteem cannot take another blow. So we keep it a secret. We hope to wake up tomorrow and have the issue resolved.

We are also convinced that no one will believe us. I come from a generation where people with mental health issues, didn’t. Where people with financial struggles, didn’t. Where people with relational issues, didn’t. Clearly any struggles we had were because we did not work hard enough, or we did not pray enough, or our faith was not strong enough. So we stayed in the closet with any real or perceived issues.

Talking about things that are keeping us in our closet takes courage. The word most used to describe the ability to open up is vulnerability. I have used it lots but, for interest’s sake, I looked it up in the dictionary and realized that perhaps I had never fully understood the meaning. I always assumed it simply meant that we let our guard down, to be open and honest. But there is more to the definition, something a little more nefarious.

To be vulnerable is also the susceptibility to an emotional attack, to be open to criticism and to potentially be emotionally wounded. That makes it sound scary and I suspect that’s why many avoid being vulnerable. Its bad enough that we experience mental illness and often question our value. Our self-esteem is fragile so by opening up and being vulnerable we run the risk of having our values questioned and risk our self-esteem taking another blow. So it feels safer to stay in the closet.

The good news is that vulnerability breeds vulnerability. I found it interesting that when I started openly talking about my journey others opened up to me as well. This week I received a phone call from someone who, because they had read some of my blogs and because they had watched some of my interviews, felt empowered to also open up, to become vulnerable. And that is how we journey through the labyrinth of mental health. We learn from each other, we lean on each other and together we can come out of the closet and live a better, healthier life.

There is a new reality. That reality is that one out of three people suffer from mental illness. That reality is that as strong as we think we are there are issues that will kneecap the best of us. That reality is we need to find someone that we can talk to. That reality is we need support. That reality is that we live a secret life and want release. And coming out of the closet is a freeing, life giving experience. So open that door, come on out and let’s talk. Make it a good one.

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