mental health stigma be gone!

January 11, 2013 | 29 Comments

Shannon and Steve Fisher with crazy hats

I was at Creative Mornings Vancouver last Friday listening to Joseph Wu, a local origami genius I follow on Instagram.

He was diagnosed with ADHD two years ago, which led to a depression he continues to wrestle. He opened his talk with this, and the only reason I didn’t run up to tackle-hug him was because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the yummy, complimentary breakfast sandwich in my lap. (Go to Creative Mornings, yo.)

I also hadn’t checked my ass in the mirror before leaving that morning; I couldn’t be sure it was stage-worthy.

As a fellow mental health broadcaster, I felt proud of Joseph for disclosing that his ADHD and depression make him sometimes hard to work with, known for his temper, a procrastinator, determined to change and thrive despite—and sometimes because of—the wrinkles in his paper. He’s transforming those wrinkles into pure enchantment.

Joseph didn’t say this, but I feel like part of his message was, “I’m kind of amazing, and if you can put up with some blippage, you won’t be sorry you stayed. I’m going to fold the shit out of things, you guys.”

I’ve been thinking about the disclosure of mental health issues in more formal spaces. If you haven’t heard, I started a business, y’all. (You should probably go like my Facebook page, okay.) I’m wondering if the existence of this blog, where I often reflect on my own mental health, will become a liability to the business. I was chatting with a friend about it on Facebook before Christmas.

ME: There are consequences to being open in my blog.

FRIEND: What are the consequences?

ME: We might not get clients because I talk about my depression.

FRIEND: Shan, you’ll have the most success being you. You’ll be that awesome web content person who flies the mental health flag HIGH and is an OVERSHARER and is CRAZY and AWESOME! Someone else can be the non-depressed one. Maybe you will get your first clients in the mental health biz —maybe they will pick you SPECIFICALLY because you speak out about mental health. And maybe you won’t do websites for conservative right wing nuts… sounds good to me.

Me: Ooh. That would be cool: If I got hired because I am me! 

I love the idea of being transparent about taboo/shameful subjects like mental health. We’re (mostly) all walking around pretending we’re great because it’s the socially appropriate thing to do, and it’s killing us because we’re fucking not great. At least not all the time.

It needs to be okay to be not-great. Not-great is just as normal and acceptable as great. And I don’t necessarily mean the kind of not-great that always has a diagnosis behind it. Sometimes we’re just plain it’s-raining-again not-great (because, oh my god, you guys: IT’S RAINING AGAIN), and sometimes we’re fourth-week-throes-of-depression not-great. Either way—why aren’t we talking about it? Why does it feel unsafe to share outside hushed circles of trusted friends?

A friend shared this piece of brilliance with me:

I really, really think we need to talk more about mental health and understand that the tough stuff people wrestle with really go hand in hand with a lot of the best things we love about them. Those of us who struggle with ADD, depression, anxiety, etc would probably manage a lot better without the weight of stigma to wrangle as well.

Socially appropriate is shaming, suffocating, exhausting. So, guess what? I’m (sometimes) depressed and awesome at what I do. I’m (sometimes) depressed and the person you want to hire. I’m (sometimes) depressed and about to strategically knock your content socks off.

If I lose clients because they read about my adventures in depression, I think I’m okay with that. The alternative is not talking about it. Secrecy won’t wipe out its existence. I get that omission of less-favourable information sometimes makes people feel better. I’m not about to wear a sandwich board declaring myself Duchess of Depression or anything. I just mean I’m not down with becoming silent in this space. Vulnerability is the heart of Truthfully. It’s the heart of Shannon.

Vulnerability is how I roll.

Roll with me?

Please like the Truthfully Facebook page. I don’t wear pants there. 

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Join the conversation

  • Some guy on Twitter

    So? Should I write something online about my Hep C, Herpes and occasional memory losses? Do you think that would help me get a job?

    • Shannon

      Yes. And you should do it because I said so. You could try the sandwich board thing if that doesn’t work out.

      • Some guy on Twitter

        I wasn’t being ‘snarky’. Just asking for advice.
        I put so much of myself out there on the net while at the same time I am over-prudent about personal things that scare me. I admire someone who can write truthfully about the scary things that happen in her life.
        Keep up the good work.

        • Shannon

          Well in that case… I’m super sorry. It did come off snarky, just so you’re aware. It felt like a challenge. Especially with the added “Do you think that would help me get a job?”

          No, I don’t think these things are going to help you get a job, just like my depression isn’t going to help me get a job. I don’t think you need to hide these things about yourself is what I’m getting at. They’re not things to be ashamed of, and anyone shaming you for them sucks.

          Email me directly if you feel safe enough. I completely understand why you’d take that route, but this anonymous biz isn’t helping us, I don’t think.

          shannon at truthfully dot ca

          Hugs to you.

        • Steve Fisher

          I know someone who applied and disclosed their mental health illness and the honesty was so compelling it got them the job.

  • Steve Fisher

    I will roll with you. So important to talk openly about this stuff. You are creating a space of health and setting a good example.

    • Shannon

      Just like when I continue to ride my bike around the sea wall with Emma when it says cyclists should dismount, right?

  • Lisa

    I’m rolling (most often slowly uphill).

    You have an incredible ability to vocalize the millions of fragmented thoughts I also have swirling around my head. I draw strength from your bravery. Thanks for being awesomely you.

    • Shannon

      Strength together, in numbers, in friendship, slowly, rolling uphill. xo

  • Kim

    your friend is really smart.

    good advice. be you. authenticity sells. this is NOT your business blog, it’s your personal blog. the likelihood of a professional client viewing your truthfully blog is fairly slim. and if they do, they get to know a whole other side of you, no doubt – a side that they’ll love. (but I highly doubt there will be that routine crossover)

    not everyone will be your client. that’s not rocket science. that’s fact.
    by being you, you’ll attract the right clients who need your particular brand of awesomeness.

    i love how the tone of your writing has changed Shann. there is so much more lightness and hope under it all.


    • Shannon

      You can take some credit for that, my friend. You threw me a rope. I’m using it.


  • Peach

    Fuck yeah, I’m rolling with you. Vulnerability is scary. It’s hard. But you’re inspiring, Shannon. Your bravery makes me want to be more brave in what I write. I applaud you and hug you and love you for being you. xox

    • Shannon

      You’re inspiring, too, Peachers. For reals. I’ll take your love and hugs, lady, and give you loads of my own. xoxo Thanks for being here. Sorry I haven’t been to your place lately. I’m super distracted.

      • Peach

        You know I get it. I’m always here. xox ~Peachers

  • Kristen

    You’re awesome. I’m so glad I subscribed.

    I was thinking today, “I write an awful lot about sexism. This is bad. People are going to get turned off and sick of it! I need to mix it up with more light-hearted not-so-serious stuff.”

    Maybe not. Maybe I just write what I want to write. People can read it, or not. Whatever. Right?

    • Shannon

      Gaw—thanks. I think the point of a personal blog is to write what you want to write. And, yeah, click away if you’d don’t like my subjects. Better to know now. You go, gurl! xo

  • MizYank

    I don’t trust anyone who claims to be a stranger to depression, or in a good mood all the time. No one is, or no one who’s worth spending any time with anyway, because most of the good things–humor, love, appreciation, knowledge–depend in large part on having experienced both ups and downs, and maybe more downs than ups.
    And don’t knock the sandwich boards. They were all over the runway in Paris last fall.

  • Lillie

    I am ridiculously excited to have the opportunity to work with Data with a Soul. The main reason for this (though there are many on the list) is your top notch ability to write. I would hope that anyone reading your blog and thinking of hiring you would take this fact and chuck it straight onto the list of ‘Reasons to Hire’. As your friend mentioned- if getting hung up on a tired stigma is this hypothetical person’s m.o.- you don’t want ’em anyway.

    You’re fighting the good fight and I commend you. ROLL!

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