Should you share your recovery story?

There are good reasons to tell your story -- and good reasons not to. (Photo: Fame Foundry)

There are good reasons to tell your story — and good reasons not to. (Photo: Fame Foundry)

By Jenny Westberg, Portland Mental Health Examiner, Oct. 5, 2013

There are plenty of personal stories of mental illness and recovery on the Internet.  For many, recovery stories are instructive and inspiring. They can help assure you that, regardless of your difficulties or diagnosis, recovery is possible. They can make you feel less alone, knowing that others have experienced the same things. They can give you ideas that may be helpful in your own recovery.

If you’ve thought about sharing your own story, however, it’s important to realize that’s not always a good idea. The reasons to go public are well known in mad communities, but the reasons to be cautious are rarely discussed — yet they are equally important.

Here are 5 reasons you might not want to share your story publicly.

1. Online is forever — and these days, if it’s in print it will probably get online too. If you decide not to share, you can always change your mind. Once you’ve shared it, you can’t.

2.  Young people in particular have trouble believing that everything about them might change, but it’s true. If you’re in your 20s, try envisioning yourself as a 30-year-old mom or a 40-year-old business executive, and think about how you would feel if your mad history was available all over the Web. Even if you’re comfortable with it now, one day you may not be.

3. No one is entirely immune from relapse. If you become known as “recovered,” but you relapse, you may feel ashamed to admit it or have a harder time climbing back.

4. Even if you now live in the margins, there may come a time when you want to re-enter society. When that day comes, having your diagnosis and struggles publicly available could be harmful to your ability to do so. For instance, many potential employers will search for you online, and given the deep prejudices that still exist, you may find it much more difficult to get hired.

5. There is nothing wrong with being selective about whom you tell.  You may be fine with your brother or your best friend knowing your diagnosis, but not the whole world. Being discerning does not mean you’re ashamed. It is not a failure of courage to keep it low-key; for many, their bravery is living every day.

Remember, your story is yours, and so is your decision to share. Don’t be pressured by anyone to go public, or to keep it to yourself. Be careful not to decide impulsively, and remember it is nobody’s decision but yours. Consider the above five points, get advice from someone you trust, sleep on it, journal about it, whatever helps you make good decisions. Then, choose courageously — and wisely.