CW: This article will reference eating disorders, suicide, self-harm and depression.
The first time I told my friend I didn’t want to talk about what I was going through mentally, she was empathetic. “That’s ok,” she told me kindly “Just know I’m here for you if you change your mind.” I let out a grateful sigh of relief. I really appreciated her support, understanding and respect for my privacy. Being perfectly honest, it was the first time I had decided not to share with someone what I was going through and how I was feeling and, damn, it felt liberating.
Three months later, however, she stopped talking to me. She said my newly adopted privacy hurt her because I “obviously didn’t trust [her] anymore”. I insisted that it wasn’t just her; I tried to explain that I didn’t want to talk about my mental health to anyone anymore, other than my doctor and partner, but she wouldn’t believe me. She didn’t understand why someone who had spent years of her life being so open about her mental health had decided to go radio silent for “no reason” and, to be honest, I didn’t know why I had decided to either.
I’ve spent the past few months looking for articles written by people like me: people who no longer wanted to share the details of their mental health openly but I found nothing. May is mental health awareness month, and as soon as you google ‘I don’t want to talk about my mental health anymore’, you’re flooded with pages of links emphasising the importance of talking about your mental health, and I get it, I really do.
Before anyone reads this article thinking I’m some advocate against mental health discussions, let me just set the record straight. Talking about mental health saves lives and not enough people talk about it. A study in 2018 showed that whilst 77% of men polled had suffered from anxiety, stress or depression, 40% said they wouldn’t discuss their mental health with anyone unless they were contemplating suicide. People shouldn’t expect (or pressure themselves) to get through mental health issues alone; telling an immediate person in your life (be that a family member, partner or friend) and a professional such as a doctor or therapist is essential and life-saving.
It’s no secret that talking about mental health saved my life on multiple occasions. I was once a poster child for talking about mental health: I spent years of my life openly discussing my mental health online for the entire world to view and analyse. Between 2010 and 2016, everyone and anyone could click and learn all about the intimate details of my mental health: from my fourth year of anorexia to my fourth suicide attempt, depressive episodes, chronic anxiety, chronic stress, bulimia, agoraphobia and insomnia.
Do I regret it?
Well, it’s hard for me to say so so bluntly. Whilst I know my open discussion about my mental health helped many people (as I received hundreds of emails over the years from people in similar circumstances as myself saying my story encouraged them to recover and seek help), I still can’t help but wish, on some level, I never shared my mental health so openly and with so many people.
It took a few years before I gave myself permission not to be open about all the vile thoughts in my head and all the troubles I was going through. I was seeking medical help; I was journalling everything down and researching my feelings in my free time — but the self-obsession depression and anxiety cause me are so exhausting that the last thing I wanted to do anymore was talk about it with other people, particularly people who were going through their own stuff. I didn’t want to give my mental health any more energy and life than it already consumes from me. I was done. So, I decided that in 2019 I wanted to focus on being a listener. I wanted to be there for others rather than have them divert their attention onto me and support people with her issues without disclosing anything of my own.
I didn’t expect my reservedness to cause such upset and anger.
The friends who were most offended by my silence were those who seemingly expected mental health discussions to be a tit-for-tat exchange. It was only common decency that, having showed trust in me by disclosing such personal information, that I should return the favour and prove my trust for them in return. They interpreted my withdrawal as a lack of trust in their ability to accept me, empathise and understand; when in reality, all my withdrawal represents is how sick I am of hearing myself think about myself.
I’m not ashamed of my mental health. I have problems and I’ve had problems my whole life. Only now, I don’t want you to know what problems I have today, because I don’t want to be known for them.
My mental health consumes enough of my life: the last thing I want it to do is to consume more of my identity than it already has.
Sharing my mental health online caused a lot of trouble. Sure, I was helping people I didn’t know, but I screwed up my personal and professional life big time. Colleagues and employers would gossip about me at work, with certain managers referring to a certain video or blog post as their reasoning why they didn’t think I was capable of doing certain tasks at work. Online dating was utter hell as well: the second someone googled me they either stood me up on a date to ceased talking to me entirely. At least one guy had the courage to admit that he didn’t think I was “mentally stable” enough to date. I respected his honesty.
Despite one in four people reporting they’ve experienced a mental health issue in their lifetime, there is still a lot of stigmata surrounding the concept of mental health; a stigmatisation which is both externalised and internalised. People are not only afraid of how others will treat and view them if they disclosed the state of their mental health, but they’re also afraid of how they will view and relate to themselves.
After over six years of being a mental health advocate, in 2017 I decided it wasn’t worth all the judgement, struggle and heartbreak. I became secretive and stopped disclosing what I was feeling and going through online. People presumed my silence meant my life was going swell, and I’ve ridden that false wave of mental and emotional stability ever since.
Of course, lying isn’t only emotionally unhealthy, it can be physically dangerous. When I met my current boyfriend in 2017, I lied and told him that my antidepressants were B12 supplements. To avoid any suspicion, I went against all medical advice and stopped taking my medication overnight and threw them in the bin before he had the chance to spot the packaging. Ridiculous and dangerous? Incredibly so. I had been on those drugs for over a year and a half at the time; somehow I got lucky and avoided any negative side effects from immediate withdrawal — but I would like to emphasise here that I am a rare case anomaly and my behaviour should not be emulated in any shape or form.
Coming clean to my boyfriend was also an awkward conversation. After a few months in, he very gently dropped the word “depression” in my direction which led to a full-blown confession. I’d lived alone for so long that I underestimated how difficult a thing depression was to hide from someone who lived in your space 24/7. However, his unconditional love and support of my mental health didn’t deter me from my mission to be more reserved about my mental health. By 2019, that privacy extended to my personal friends and family. Nowadays, only two people know the state of my mental health (my partner and my doctor), and only three people know the details about my personal and professional life (my partner, doctor and cousin).
Within two years, I went from being an extreme open book to the world to an exclusive, secret library loan. I stopped talking about everything: I don’t tell people about my job, my personal projects, my interests, my health, my concerns, my dreams, my excitement, my opinions, my friends, what I’m reading, what I’m doing in the summer or even what I’m planning on doing at the weekend.
Why am I even doing this? I’m not someone who believes in the whole ‘fake it ’til you make it’ pseudo-psychology (no offence). Most people would argue that my attitude and behaviour is unhealthy and overly restrained and perhaps they’re right. But there’s a logic behind my madness (pardon the pun).
I’m doing this because I want to learn to listen to something that’s unrelated to the voices in my head. I don’t want to be consumed by the self-obsession my low self-esteem and self-worth fuel inside me. I want to hear something other than my own negative narrative enter my ears, swirl around my mind and exit my mouth (if the last step is desired or necessary).
Quite frankly, all I want to do is to stop thinking about myself for the first time in my life.
I’m so grateful to live in a society where people are talking about mental health, and that there are initiatives, companies, organisations and charities encouraging people to open up about their mental health. I look back at my childhood and wish initiatives like Time to Change existed. I’m grateful that there are now governmental and school initiatives to bring mental health education into the school system, and that some workplaces are now introducing mental health first aid training to members of staff.
But for now, I want to stop talking about my mental health. I’ll share advice and stories about the things I’ve overcome in my past, but the things I’m going through right now will remain a secret I only share with those it directly affects and professionals who can help me.
I’m not talking about my mental health anymore, not because I’m ashamed and not because I don’t have issues. I’ve stopped talking for the good of my mental health.