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Manual for Carrying Elephants: the Disclosure Dilemma

January 18, 2010

I struggle with stories about myself. What do I say? To whom? When? And when all is said and done, what do I say after I’ve acknowledged that what I say to doctors does not — for me — count so much as what I say to friends and family and partners.

When do I expose myself to them?

And then, the next question: what am I exposing? I know that I open myself to others’ stigmatization of me, but the root of it, the cause of that stigma, I don’t know what it is.

If you go to your dictionary and if you open it and if in your dictionary you find the word stigma you will also find that it is a token of infamy or disgrace. It is a sign of fault, of personal failure.

Have I failed?

Yes, often. I have failed as a daughter and sister and friend and girlfriend, have let people down in ways I wish I hadn’t and in ways which can’t be taken back. But, and this is the important part, my failure has been no more and no less than anyone else’s failure.

My flaws have been different from yours. My faults my own. But this stigma is not really mine to bear because it is not a token of these human failures. So again: what am I exposing?

I think, though I’m unsure, that I am exposing that I am human, broken and flawed and sometimes unable to fly. I am exposing my fear of being unloved and unlovable.

There are other questions than this, of course. The dilemma around disclosing is a carefully orchestrated dance around not pissing off the other person, not scaring them or making them feel bad, answering questions when needed, not revealing too much. There are times and venues for this. But there is also, for me, this — I am still human and flawed and fearful, and I am always already disclosing these things in myriad ways in so many encounters I have with others.

A mental illness? It doesn’t change the humanness. Just the magnitude of the disclosure. I know this. But I also know that it is hard to keep knowing, to know as a bodily knowledge.

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