Millions of people are coping with mental health issues at this very moment. It could be anxiety, depression, ADHD, or chronic stress. It’s pretty common to walk through life shouldering these burdens by ourselves.
Nobody wants to burden family, friends, or acquaintances with their problems. Moms especially tend to shoulder this burden themselves.
Unfortunately, this means that the majority of people with mental health concerns end up not receiving appropriate treatment or support. Only one-third of those with a diagnosable anxiety disorder reach out for help!
Would you not visit the emergency room for a broken ankle because it would be a burden? Would you not visit the dentist for a tooth infection because it would be a burden? Would you not visit the doctor for a new, discolored mole on your skin because you’re just too busy?
Sadly, we often take our physical health concerns more seriously than our mental health struggles, when both are important, and both can be debilitating.
Why don’t we share?
We fear that nobody will understand what we’re going through.
We fear that someone will tell us we don’t have it that bad or to just suck it up.
We fear we are going to bring everyone else down with us if we open up about just how messed up we feel inside.
The common theme among those fears is that we assume we know what others will think, feel, or do when we tell them our struggles. That’s called mind-reading. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned I am no Miss Cleo, so my efforts at mind-reading are laughable.
These statements are stories your mind tells you because of your anxiety or depression. To take those stories at face value is like believing everything a used car salesman is telling you! You’ll want some evidence to verify them before handing over your bank account.
Now take a second and think about the last time a friend or family member reached out to you and truly asked for your help. They showed vulnerability and said it’s too much for me right now, I want to share this with you. How did you react? What did it feel like to help?
Most of my patients tell me they feel honored that someone has trusted them enough to share a difficulty. They say that it felt good to be able to help someone they cared about, even if it was just by listening and empathizing with their experience.
It felt good!
So that means that by NOT sharing your challenges with someone you trust, you are DENYING THEM THE OPPORTUNITY TO FEEL GOOD!
The burden on our loved ones actually comes from them seeing us struggle and not having any idea why. Opening up about what you are feeling helps them to understand why you’ve been exhausted, staying in bed more often, snapping more easily, or forgetting details.
Beginning to share your story will no more burden your family, than lifting a 10-pound weight for 12 reps will make you a muscle-bound freak. To build muscle takes time and effort, and that’s what it takes to burden our loved ones as well.
Why to share your story
There are so many reasons to share your struggles, not the least of which is that the simple act of telling someone what’s been running through your head takes away some of the power those thoughts have.
So many people tell me they were anxious or even terrified to speak of their mental health issues, but it was an immediate relief to have it out in the open. Holding those thoughts and feelings in takes a toll on you physically and emotionally.
You’d likely be surprised how often the response is, “I’ve been through that too.” None of us walk around with signs over our head that say “anxiety” or “depression” or “ADHD,” so we end up feeling alone in our struggles. Not realizing our neighbor, best friend, or co-worker has dealt with something similar in the past.
While just feeling heard and understood can help, it’s also possible that someone might actually be able to help! Whether it’s problem solving, providing information on a helpful resource, or giving the name of a good therapist, having another set of eyes on our problems can give us options we never would’ve considered on our own.
When either my wife or I have gone through particularly stressful times, the other is more than happy to take on extra responsibilities around the house or with the kids. Having one fewer thing to worry about can mean more than you realize.
How to open up
You aren’t going to tell your mail carrier about your worries that you’re a bad mother. However, when you really think about all the people you know, I’m guessing you can think of one or two that would be trustworthy and caring with your information.
For many of us, this begins with our romantic partner. While you worry about burdening them, remember that they will likely feel relieved to finally understand what’s been on your mind. Chances are they’ve noticed you struggling.
Be willing to directly state what you need.
Men especially tend to jump into problem solving mode, when you might just need them to listen and understand. Let them know ahead of time what you most need in that moment. And it can change from moment to moment!
This open communication on how to help is important so that you don’t feel invalidated by their response.
The final piece I want to leave you with is that you are important!
When you’re on an airplane, they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. If you pass out because you tried to put someone else’s mask on before your own, you wouldn’t be much help!
The same thing goes for the rest of life as well. As much as we put others before ourselves, especially our children, it only works as long as we are fully functioning. Once we’re struggling to keep our own heads above water, it becomes a bigger stressor to try and keep others afloat as well.
By keeping your struggles to yourself, you are not able to be as helpful to people as you'd like! When you share with others, you are allowing yourself to be important, and asking that others at least acknowledge what you are going through.
Regardless of whether you decide to share those internal struggles, please remember to prioritize your own physical and mental health! At the very least, it allows you to better help those you care about most, and can reduce the weight of the stress, anxiety, worry, or depression you're carrying. Schedule self-care activities each week so you don’t fall prey to neglecting yourself.
Do you miss coffee with a girlfriend? Trivia night with the boys? Maybe it’s a warm bath. It could be exercise or meditation. What you do for self-care is up to you. As Nike says, just do it. It’s important.
If you’ve been struggling for awhile and feel like it wouldn’t be enough to share with just family or friends, please reach out for a free consultation. I’d love to help you see that there is hope. You deserve to feel joy again.