There are many ways to live in the closet. You can live in the closet as a gay person, or lesbian, or transgender, or even as someone who suffers from a mental illness.
I was one of those people who lived in the closet.
I have paranoid schizophrenia and I was able to keep my diagnosis a secret for nearly twenty years. My husband and I kept our personal life extremely private for the seventeen years we have been together. We kept a part of ourselves off limits to all the other people in our lives.
We didn’t share our secret with family, and we didn’t share our secret with our closest friends. A big part of our life was hidden from the rest of the world. We were afraid of judgement. We were afraid that I would have to live with the stigma that is associated with mental illness. We were afraid that people would treat us differently.
Keeping a big part of who you are from the people closest to you prevents you from really opening up and being yourself. It prevents you from letting your guard down, and trusting the world and the people around you. It is like living part of your life in darkness or in a cage.
We desperately wanted to let the light in, but it took my husband and me almost a year to work up the courage and the strength to go public with my diagnosis, but once we did, life started to open up for us.
Many of the things we feared never happened. It was like spring cleaning, places that had previously been cluttered and dusty, and unpleasant to be, turned into sunny little nooks where we could sit down and share a coffee or a cup of hot tea.
Of course there were the usual misunderstandings about what schizophrenia actually is, and what the symptoms are, but beyond that people opened their hearts and lives to us. We received cards and letters thanking us for having the courage to share that part of our lives. Some friends wrote that they had been suffering from anxiety or depression for a number of years, but were too embarrassed to talk about it.
My coming out of the closet, paved the way for other people to share their secrets, their stories, and their pain. It also brought me support from some of the most unlikely people and places. I think we often fear that if we show our vulnerabilities to other people, they will attack us in our weakest spot. That may be true for some, but in our experience when you show your whole self to others they welcome you as a human being with imperfections they can relate to.
Do you have a secret you have been hiding? Do you have the kind of support necessary to begin to trust the world and open up?