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The Risk of Honesty

I’ve recently been applying for jobs, many of them revolving around social media and communications, and many of which want to see examples of my previous work. The vast majority of my social media and communications work centers around blogging, particularly about mental health, atheism and feminism. As I comb through my past writings looking for something to send off to potential jobs, it’s become more and more clear to me that if someone found access to all of my writing, I would likely never be hired. Knowing this, I’ve continued to write openly about my mental health, about taboo subjects like self-harm, and about issues that are sensitive and personal. I was asked last night why I keep doing it even though I know that it could harm my job chances in the future. This is an important question, and one that I’ve thought carefully about. I think that readers deserve to know the answer.

First and foremost I keep writing about these things because I don’t think I could stop. Whether I did this privately or publicly, I would still be writing and reflecting on all of the issues that I write about here because writing is how I cope, release, and reflect. Writing is just how I express myself. While I’m perfectly capable of having in person discussions and I do enjoy those, my first impulse is always to pick up a pen and paper and let out my thoughts. Writing is what I care about and what I want to do, so I continue to write for my own benefit. I also want to continue to improve my writing, because I hope to use it in a career someday. Only by writing and hearing feedback can I make myself a better writer.

But in addition to just wanting to write, there are some reasons that I publicly post my writing. The biggest issue for me is that I don’t want to hide who I am and what I’ve been through. There are a few reasons for this. First, I’ve tried to do that and it feels horrible. It is time consuming, energy draining, unpleasant, and isolating. I don’t like it and I just don’t want to do it. I also know that others dislike the feeling of having to be silent about their experiences, and I want to do my best to show that you don’t have to be.

Second, I have found some of the best support and the best discussion from those online. I have found communities that I care about and who care about me. I want to be open with them. I want to foster the open dialogue that drew me to them in the first place, and I want to be able to offer the support of my own honest voice to the conversation. I also find that I can’t ask people for help and advice if I’m not honest about the fact that I need help and advice. It’s much easier to ask people what self-soothing techniques they use if they know what sorts of things you typically struggle with.

Third, I know that there is stigma against mental illness. In my opinion, the only way to reduce this stigma is to make mental illness visible. If people know that their friends, family members, coworkers and the like are mentally ill and coping and successful and relatively normal, they can stop associating mental illness with violence and “otherness”. When I posted at my personal blog about what it’s like to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I got responses from a number of friends who opened up to me about having the same diagnosis. Some of these were people I had known for years and felt very close to, who had never felt comfortable talking to me about it before. That kind of response alone is enough to keep me writing. If I can give anyone the gift of being able to lessen some of the shame surrounding their experiences, I will be happy.

So visibility is important to me. I am a relatively successful and well-adjusted individual. I want others to see that someone they might view as extremely put together actually has a mental illness. I am not the stereotype of mental illness, and it’s important for people to see that. But perhaps most important to me, more than any of these other things, I want to be a voice that other people in similar situations can hear and talk to. If I can help one other individual understand their illness better, be inspired to get help, gain the confidence to talk to me, feel more comforted that they can get better, or find something of help in my posts, then it will be worth it. If I can in any way diminish the suffering of another person, or help someone head off their illness before it gets too serious, then Sweet Sagan will I be proud of myself. My potential job prospects are nothing in comparison to what this could do for other people.

From my personal experience, I know that finding others who are struggling, finding others who will be honest and open, and who won’t BS about the real reasons they’re trying to get better and why they were struggling in the first place, is the best way to feel stronger and more inspired myself. I don’t pretend that I know I can do this for others, but I can hope. The best way to foster dialogue and to help others feel they can be open and share their experiences is by doing it myself.

After some discussion with family members, the question of why I need to be the one to do this came out. Especially with older family members, I can seem naïve or idealistic, and they wonder why I feel the need to potentially sacrifice my own well-being for a cause. Now it’s true that there is no clear logical reason why these causes need to be my battle. There are more PC causes: I could fight poverty or hunger or AIDS. In part these are my causes because they affect me. They are the closest to my heart because I know about them, I understand them, and I feel I can be a good voice for them because they are my experience. So there is a reason that these particular causes hit home for me. But is there a reason I need to strive for any cause at all?

I have known for my whole life that if I can make this world a better place that is something that I want to do, perhaps even something that I need to do. I have a strong drive to make meaning in my own life, and the only way that I know how to do that is to try to improve the quality of life for all human beings. In addition, addressing issues like bias and bigotry in our culture affects all of us. It will help improve my own quality of life (something I’m fairly invested in) as well as the quality of life of those around me, people I am often friends with and whom I care about. I don’t want to sit back and let other people dictate the cultural climate around me. I want to be active, and advocate for the things I care about through my own life, and through my activism. I absolutely despise the idea of giving up any amount of power or control I have over my own life. If I were to give up speaking openly about issues that affect me, I would be giving up the power I have to affect change.

So not only am I working for the benefit of others, I am working for myself. I know that sometimes I need to balance my own concerns with the concerns of the community, which means that sometimes I need to sit out a conversation or protect myself from certain criticisms (e.g. if you call me fat and ugly on my blog you will be banned in a millisecond). However if I look at the potential harm that could come to me from writing here, I know that it is far outweighed by the benefits I see. I may have more difficulty getting a new job, but I am financially secure at the moment, and I know that somewhere out there is a job that I want and that will hire me. That’s good enough for me.

So all in all, yes, blogging is a risk. But I feel I can contribute in a very meaningful and intentional way both to my life and to my community by writing openly and frankly about my life. I hope that others of you consider being open as well.

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Olivia

Olivia

Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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