Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pride and Authenticity

Why is it so hard to be authentic with others?  I've had several opportunities in recent months to share my story, both on the blog and in other areas of my life.  The more I talk about it, the easier it gets.  Although I do have to say that writing anonymously on the blog is a whole lot easier than talking face-to-face with people I've known for years who have no idea of my mental struggles.  (Click here for why I'm writing anonymously.)

I don't really have a problem telling people in real life that I struggle with anxiety and depression (I once heard depression referred to as the common cold of mental illness).  These two things seem to be fairly common and well understood by the general public.  

It's when I get to the part about having OCD that I get nervous.  This anxiety disorder is not well understood by people, and there is a lot of shame and stereotyping associated with it.  It doesn't make sense, and I understand that it's illogical.

          I should only need to check the door lock once.

          should be able to ask God for forgiveness for a particular sin once.

          should be able to dismiss an awful thought without constant repeating that I 
          don't really believe it.  

But these things, especially in seasons of high intensity, are very, very hard for me.  

How do I explain this illness to people who (I think) have an elevated view of who I am?

          They see the student who always got good grades and was never sent to the 
          principal's office.  

          The daughter of strong Christian parents who made good choices and obeyed 
          her parents.  

          The girl who was a good influence and example to her younger siblings and those 
          she worked with in the church youth group.  

          The senior class president who got the "spiritual maturity" award and played on the 
          church and school chapel worship teams.  

          The Christian college student who worked with poverty kids in the public school 
          system after graduation.  

          The bride who met her husband at Bible study and did life in the right order.  

          The mom of three beautiful and well-adjusted children.

          The award-winning teacher who chose to stay home with her kids and homeschool. 

What they don't see is that even though the things listed above are good things, the background music to ALL of my life has been something that hasn't been so good: mental illness.  They don't see that my struggle has been so intense at times that I felt paralyzed.  How do I explain something to others that doesn't even make sense to me?

Obviously, I struggle with pride and what people think of me.  And I'm honestly not at the point of being comfortable with shattering the view that people have.  I am making strides in this area, though.  The blog helps, and I've had multiple opportunities to talk with others in real life about my story.

Like last night, when a close friend did not accept my pat answer about how my day was.  I explained more about what OCD actually is and how my brain works.  My obsessive thought yesterday was related to scrupulosity, so that was also difficult to explain.  It was very, very uncomfortable, even though her response was good.  She in no way made me feel weird or crazy, and she was very encouraging.  But I still left the conversation wondering what the long-term effects will be of sharing so much of myself.  Will she start avoiding me?  Will she tell other people?  Is our friendship over?

I've been pretty open with my immediate family, but mental illness isn't something that's talked about much in my extended family (who I think also has an elevated view of me).  But some recent family issues have given me an opening to share part of my journey and how God has brought me through.  Responses have ranged from compassion to gratitude that someone else understands to over generalization.  Nothing negative!

Authenticity is an opportunity for growth, both for the person being authentic and for those the person is being authentic with.  Now, I know that no one has it all together, especially me.  I'd love to get to the point of sharing my story without a hint of shame, and I know that this is an area that I need to work on.  For now, I'll be authentic with you and those who are the very closest to me.  Eventually, though, maybe I'll be open with everyone.  After all, what's the point of hiding, other than self-protection?

What experiences (good or bad) have you had with authenticity?