Alone in a crowd of your peers

Portrait of a woman in black hijab

I belong to a group of intelligent creative women. All of us are writers, many of us are over 40 and a most are mothers. It’s a very supportive group where we celebrate the ups and downs of the publishing and writing life. We also talk among ourselves to encourage one another and there is a bit of socializing. You can’t avoid that with a group of writers.

There was an interesting question posed the other day – “What do you share on social media, and what don’t you share?”

The list of things that were shared was as diverse as our group. There were some common themes of humor, politics and cat videos. But what surprised me more was that among this group of driven and talented women was a nearly universal answer about what they didn’t share.

The common element that they refused to share with social media was their problems with mental health. That consistency from such a diverse group struck me.

As I ponder this phenomena, turning it over and over to inspect it from all angles, the feeling that there is a cauldron of emotions shaping this decision. I can see that there is fear. Some denial. And all stirring in a base of shame.

Allow me to say I only observe, I make no judgments about what is right or wrong. Because there is no right or wrong here there is only the need for each person to be comfortable with their own choice. But that so many women would feel more comfortable not sharing this aspect of their lives is I think remarkable.

It’s not that I don’t understand the fears that would keep anyone from speaking out. I carried those fears with me for decades. The fear of being labeled ‘mentally unfit’ is massive. It conjures up images of loss of family, of control, of freedom. It is a place of pure terror. So, to many people who suffer from mental problems it is safer to deny that you have a problem rather than to risk the consequences of admitting you do.

Because the fear of mental illness drenches our history. It makes us as a society uncomfortable to discuss or even to acknowledge. The common story of the lunatic asylum, the mad house, the barbarity of past treatment, and yes even the fear of contagion drives nearly everyone of us here in the United States to turn away, close our eyes and deny the condition exists. Even to the point of denying ourselves the help we need.

We fear the labels that can accompany mental illness. Crazy. Insane. Unstable. Fragile. And as women we already face these labels on a nearly daily basis without providing any reason for them to be applied. The fear of the increase in the contempt of the world should we admit we have any weakness silences us, keeping us individual and alone. 

I have no magic. I can offer no solution to this. But I can offer an alternative to siloed silence.
There are places on-line and in real life that allow people to unite to share their experiences and solutions, but most importantly to break the wall of silence that perpetuates solitude and the illusion that we are each alone.

Al Anon:
Mental Health America:

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