So, I decided to be honest about having a mental illness about a year and half ago. I started to tell people and describe my experiences, which can be seen on this blog at various points. I gave a sermon where I detailed my experience with bipolar 2 disorder and anxiety and talked about it in terms of having a secret that we must get out. And recently, I went on the podcast Exvangelical and described my battle with mental illness in both the church and school, most notably my college life. 

And my friends have mostly come back saying one thing: “I had no idea and I’m so sorry I couldn’t help you more.”

This is what makes my friends good people. But there’s a reason they didn’t know. I hid it. I was afraid. I didn’t know.

First, I didn’t know that I had a mental illness. Or, maybe I knew but didn’t want to admit it. I was told that I had to obviously have depression when I was 19 but I thought and believed this was something that you overcame and got better from. I was really not educated. And, I viewed it as a lack of character because that’s what I had been told. So, I hid it, treating it just like herpes or hemorrhoids or some other disease that was embarrassing and you did not want anyone to know about. 

And, so, I didn’t talk about it or even let people in on my issues. 

But, further than that, I really did not want to burden my friends with my stuff. Or my family for that matter. I wasn’t sure what was going on in my mind and I hid it from everyone because it was a terrible burden for myself and why would I put that on anybody else? No one else needed to take that on. And I guess that this goes to the private nature of being Nate Crawford. I think my burdens should not be placed upon  anyone else because no one else should have to carry them. I’m more than willing to carry other people’s stuff, but I would never willingly place my own on someone else. And that meant not sharing with friends or family or others what I was really going through. 

Now, it also did not help that my counselor and doctor had no idea what they were dealing with when I was in college and even when I got to be 30. Cluelessness was all they could muster and that meant I was in the dark about the real nature of my condition and the nature of my mental illness. So, I really did not know what to tell people. I mean, when you go to the doctor and say, “My Zoloft does not seem to be working. I don’t feel any better” and his response is “Well, we probably just need to up the dose” there are problems of understanding (which ended up being even worse since Zoloft is useless on me and my genetic structure). With my very limited understanding and their cluelessness, I certainly was not going to put that on anyone else. I mean, if doctors were in the dark, how could I put that on my friends and family?

Mostly, though, I hid it because that’s the way that I coped. If I started to admit to people that I was sick, they might treat me like I was sick. And, worse, they might think less of me. Not in public, of course, but in private. They would say, “At least I’m not Nate.” Or, that’s what went through my mind. I didn’t want anyone to think anything less of me and, in all honesty, it gave me a sense of superiority because I had this secret and all these hurts that people did not know about and because they did not know, I had the leg up: or, at least, that’s how it worked in my warped mind.

I hid in plain sight. This is what I did and what I still do oftentimes. For example, I was on a bus the other day going to my kid’s field trip and another parent was talking about “those mental illness people” who lobbied for Knotts Berry Farm to close their “asylum” haunted house, mainly because it perpetuated dangerous stigma and stereotypes. And I didn’t say that it actually perpetuated those stereotypes about me. No, I just sat there and listened to him talk about the over sensitivity of mentally ill people (ironically, I helped him with some questions on setting up a 501c3 and, when asked what my nonprofit does, I told him “we advocate for the mentally ill”. Stunned silence). But, I have to hide in the middle of plain sight because there’s nothing physical about my illness and I have to go about life. Now, I’ve learned to lean on people and to be honest about where I am and how I am feeling. However, hiding my mental illness as I walk through life is the only way I’ve learned to function. 

And, so, I say to all of my friends who feel any guilt or people that wish they could have helped: you probably have. I have to go through life and just helping me do so, being there, living well, allowing me to share in your life, has been some of the best medicine and ways of coping with my mental illness.