Writing for this blog has been a privilege. Every two weeks, I’ve been given the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with you as I work through my recovery. I admit that these thoughts and experiences haven’t been profound, but they’ve been honest and, in their honesty, they have strength. I’ve been able to share with you the tools that I use to pursue recovery. I’ve been able to share with you that I have moments when I struggle despite these tools. But most importantly, I’ve been able to share.
This act, sharing, is something I’ve really only done over the past twenty six months. It has been an act of ongoing self-care. Previously, I was a very private person, sharing as little as possible about myself. I extended this excessive protection of privacy onto others. In essence, if I didn’t ask about them, they wouldn’t ask about me. This was how I was raised. Additionally, I had a career where confidentiality was very important. In keeping confidentialities, I gradually grew to share even less and less, especially about myself. Silence became the norm. Silence became my barrier to vulnerability and intimacy.
However, the events of September, 2014, and the months leading up to those events, made it clear to me that being so closed off was detrimental to my health. My silence was nothing unusual. No-one suspected anything was wrong. This, paradoxically, left me vulnerable to my darker thoughts. I realized that in order to heal, I had to share what was going on in my head without reservation. So I chose to share, to be transparent, to be open. Nonetheless, in a very real way, this meant I chose to be a different kind of vulnerable.
In my case, sharing involves disclosing my deepest, darkest thoughts and fears. These thoughts and fears are very dark indeed. Sharing reveals how dysfunctional my thinking can be and how precarious my recovery is. Like many who suffer from mental illness, my thinking often involves unhealthy thinking styles: all or nothing thinking; over-generalization; black or white thinking; a tendency to the negative; personalizing; labeling; et cetera. Moreover, while in the midst of a depressive episode, the darker thoughts come too readily to mind. They are familiar, yet repugnant, and I remain vulnerable to them.
In recent weeks, I’ve been reminded that my recovery is precarious. One moment of excessive complacency, and all of my work can be undone. This is another area of vulnerability. To my good fortune, I have a series of tools to turn to, including writing these guest posts, that help me maintain my recovery. Even as I struggle, I work so that I do not fall into the depths of despair that threatened my life two years ago. Thus, while I am vulnerable to the darker thoughts sharing, in part, keeps me out of the depths.
Yet sharing necessitates vulnerability. Whenever I share, I open myself up to the possibility of mental or physical harm. The weight of this harm depends on the intimacy of the sharing. By this I mean that there is greater vulnerability when the sharing is more intimate, either by virtue of its content or by virtue of the person(s) with whom I am sharing. Thus, I am hurt more when dismissed by a family member or friend than I am by a stranger. Or more hurt when what I have shared is deeply important to me yet it is discounted. I submit that this is true for each of us.
For me, it is a question of what represents the greater harm. Am I more at risk, more vulnerable, from sharing, or am I more vulnerable from remaining silent? I believe that the answer lies, as it always does, in discovering a balance between the two. I’m not sure that I’ve discovered that balance, but I do know that my becoming more open, my sharing more, has moved me closer to it.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.