I am a master of oversharing. This blog is a testament to that fact. I struggle with finding a balance between the whole truth and appropriate conversation all the time. How much can I share with this person? How soon can I say certain things? What is appropriate at this level of intimacy? Omg, did I really just say that? Crap.
This is the most difficult when the boundaries of relationships are blurred. For instance, I shared this blog with the general public anonymously before sharing with any of my friends and family. The next step was to add a layer of intimacy and share it with select family and friends. Finally, I shared it with my wider world of Facebook friendships. Technically this blog is still anonymous. I haven’t laid claim to it in the public sphere because, while I decided I was comfortable sharing with Facebook, people who already know me, I am still uncomfortable with the idea of the general public connecting my story with my name. This is antithetical to my position of ending stigma, but I figure it leaves me room to grow.
I encountered an interesting dilemma in my workshop on narrative medicine. It seems like the perfect atmosphere to share my blogging with compatriots in my postbac premed program. The extent of sharing that I did was with the two heads of the workshop, as I introduced myself and explained my writing background, I also explained that I was a mental health blogger. When it came time to introduce ourselves in the group, however, I found myself leaving that detail out. The reason for this, I concluded, was that I felt I had overshared with the leaders, perhaps overstepping my introductory courtesies. I also didn’t want to incur the judgement of my classmates in my first impression, which science tells us dictates much of how we think of a person even further into the relationship and even after our first impressions have been countered by other information. What I decided was that it was too much information, TMI. I didn’t need to go to that depth right away. Maybe, later on, if the occasion arises I will share this element of my life.
Part of me has a serious drive to publish, to share, to connect on a deep level with most people that I encounter, especially those I feel are intellectual equals or superiors, or emotional compatriots. This is why my internal TMI fight is constantly raging. A huge part of me feels liberated now that my Facebook clan knows some of my story. I don’t share everything, like our current White House, and I think that’s appropriate. Certain things could hurt people in my life and other details are currently private, something that may change in the future. I’m always doing emotional math: if I say this about myself, then the other person might react in this way, and it will make me feel like x. It’s also about emotional editing: is this point relevant to the current story? Will adding this make me feel uncomfortable? Is this an uncomfortable that encourages growth or will it simply drive me into a negative emotional spiral? Will I feel better adding this detail?
I think TMI is good and bad, contextually. Sometimes going for “TMI” is liberating. Did all of my Facebook friends need to know the intimacies of my life? No. Do I feel better for sharing them? Yes. Yes because I feel like now I am my deeper truth to the people who know me and care about me. Does this mean that I should do that with all the people I meet? Maybe. I’ve never been one to put society’s demands before my personal image: I have loads of tattoos and piercings. I’ve lived by the motto that if you devalue me from your first visual impression, then you are not someone that I care to be connected to. It is easier to do that these days, the more prevalent tattoos and piercings become, but I do still get strange looks from people and I’m sure that almost everyone I meet makes certain snap judgements about who I am and what my contributions to society could be. Maybe as I continue my journey I will find that I am as comfortable sharing my story with Average Joe as I am with my friends and family, just like I don’t hide my tattoos or remove my facial piercings just to please a standard ideal.
I think what it boils down to is discovering what level of vulnerability one is willing to have. At the moment I feel fairly comfortable being vulnerable. I think it actually gives me a kind of strength. But I don’t feel completely comfortable, which is why I limited myself in the larger class context but shared my story in the more intimate setting with the leaders of my workshop.
In order to end stigma about mental illness, it needs to be discussed, but it also needs to be discussed at the proper moments, when people are receptive and it isn’t out of context. I think this is the great power of the Internet. Here we can overshare to our heart’s content, and no one is forced to peruse our content. It is always contextually relevant. To fight stigma, we need people to be honest, to speak their truth, to seek help, to be open, otherwise we leave essential issues in the dark. Darkness that can be especially dangerous. Suicide kills more military personnel than war does. Depression is the leading cause of disability across the globe. These are not only staggering statistics, they are heartbreaking and, most important, they can be changed. This is not the whole fight, but it is a part of it. Ending stigma opens doors for people who are trapped in themselves, fearful of society’s response to their issues. Ending stigma saves lives. We must all be a part of that fight if we wish to win.