Disclosure – The Beauties and Perils of Telling All

Writing prompt – Disclosure post. How did you decide what to share? What do/don’t you share?

Behind Glass © 2003 Jane Waterman
Behind Glass © 2003 Jane Waterman

I’ve been sick for a while now, at least 22 years that I was conscious of, but the depression bit started a couple of years before that. I’ve come out of a few closets in my time, mental illness being perhaps the most difficult of all due to the stigma attached to it.

In my experience, there’s no formula for sharing. There are so many factors, but the biggest one is, How real do you want to be? I apologize for the glaring typographical emphasis.

To me, that’s the one and only reason for disclosing something, whether it be an illness, a gender identity, a sexual orientation, a political orientation, or even your secret predilection for the losing team in the National Hockey League (for the record, as an expat Australian, I’ve yet to go nuts over hockey, but it may happen one day).

For me, the bottom line is this: living well and being comfortable with yourself becomes swiftly untenable when you have to pretend you are something you’re not. I could imagine this is true if you were the only Democrat in a room of Republicans. It’s certainly true for people with chronic illnesses in a room of well people, offering invitations for sporting activities or shopping marathons (both equally terrifying to those suffering from autoimmune fatigue) – in short, things that totally conflict with the realities of your illness.

I could do some of these things, poorly and to some degree, but I would pay for the ‘excursion’ many days after. There’s been times when recovery has taken weeks. I’m no longer prepared to give away days of my life to fit in and be accepted. So there comes a time when I have to decide if a budding friendship has a future. Only the chronically ill will understand me when I say there is a practical limit on the number of friendships you can maintain with a chronic illness. That’s when you have to assess the risk and disclose.

Disclosure, of course, including the extent and delivery of it, depends on the wellbeing of the discloser, not just the receptivity of the disclosee. During the early 1990s, at a time when I was very much at the mercy of depression and other conditions, I didn’t even know who I was at times. I became who people wanted me to be. You can do this for a time, and some people manage to carry it off all their life. I don’t want to be those people. You don’t want to be those people.

So I decided to tell. Mind you, this ‘decision’ wasn’t well reasoned – I was after all, as the saying goes, one wave short of a shipwreck. It was the desperate need to blurt out my truth. After a few disastrous efforts, I learned there are some people you shouldn’t tell, especially when your ship has smashed open on the rocks.

There were some people I told that I regretted telling, even an abbreviated version of my history and situation. I won’t mention the public declaration of my depressive illness on my workplace’s intranet (Equal rights for mentally ill, people, yes! No, not really.) I also couldn’t truly hide a couple of short leaves for depression in the early 1990s when I checked in at a public psych ward for the food service – ummm, I mean the quality assessment and counselling. I lie – it was for the food.

People love to talk, and often the ones who talk the most are bound by confidentiality to say the least. That’s life, and there are revelations you can’t undo: ones that are said too quickly, and ones that are left too long.

I have a few wonderful stories though – a gentleman I met online who sent me anonymous flowers at work on Valentine’s Day – just to make my day as my mental health teetered on the shores of that rocky coast I’ve alluded to. We later visited in person. We just talked about the realities of life, especially my recent hospitalizations, and he listened. He had his own issues (don’t we all!), but he took some time out of his life to truly listen to me. It was a gift I never forgot, and one I try to pay forward when I am able.

I’m happy to say that some people in my life have known the best and worst of me, and have come to know the real me. Most of these cherished friendships are online, but some are in person. They’re all in ‘real life’. My ‘heart’ family and friends are the ones I know I can count on to share the tough days and the shadows and not run screaming. If anything, they gather closer and let me know I’m loved. It makes all those years of heartbreak easier, and life with increasing challenges that much sweeter.

If I was giving guidance on how to disclose something, gentle reader, it would be gradual disclosure. Tell one person at a time. Disclose one issue at a time. Test the waters. I’ve had a couple of disclosures where I’ve pretty much spilled everything at once, and it went splendidly. We went on to have great friendships. There are other cases where I was so dramatically wrong – the budding relationship was ruined by premature disclosure, leaving me anxious and vulnerable. People ask questions, and that’s natural, but sometimes the questions just make you feel weirder than you already feel, which signals that it’s time to back up and take stock.

One day though, you’ll get tired of making excuses, of pretending that all is the same as it was. If your life has been completely transformed by health challenges, it’s tough enough. What you need is one person who’s on your side – just one person who can meet the real you and not run. Sometimes it’s helpful if it’s an online contact – less chance of runners (or at least of you seeing it)!

I’m at a stage where I’m comfortable sharing what I do. I talk about most of my issues freely now.  The biggest questions I ask myself before sharing is this, “Do I feel safe sharing? Will this help me or someone else?” If the answer is yes, I’ll proceed. Even then, I’ll check in with myself for any twinge of anxiety. To me, that means the flare guns are out, signalling desperately, “Too much. Not now. Too close to the rocks.”

Letting down some of the shields and filters will free you. Some issues that were once big, difficult issues will grow smaller and simpler as you begin to love and accept yourself as you are, and find heart family and friends prepared to do the same. If you change your mind during a disclosure, you have the right to back out. Never let yourself be pressured to reveal more than you want, even if you started the conversation.

One day we’ll all be sitting on that shore – some of us will need blankets, recliners or intensive care of the soul – looking out at the rocks and feeling glad that we’re no longer ‘out there’. Disclosure is brave. Whatever the outcome, it’s brave. Take time to sit on the shore and enjoy being there, even by yourself at first. Eventually, others will come along to join you. You won’t be alone.


Did this post resonate with you or help you in some way? Let me know in the comments below! If you’d like to support my work, you can buy me some writing time! This helps to support my work and keep it accessible and ad-free!

Jane Waterman

Hi, I’m Jane! I create blogs, fiction, art, and adaptive yoga as I seek peace and healing in this strange and sometimes beautiful world. I’ve been chronically ill and probably crazy for 30 years, but I try not to let it stop me!

Please visit the about page to learn more about me and my hopes for this community! If you’d like to support my work, please visit my tip jar at ko-fi.com/jane or my ongoing creative projects at patreon.com/janewaterman.



4 Responses

  1. Your so brave and I believe sharing this is so important to others. People need to know that it is ok to share if they want and to not do so as well. I think the lesson of trusting some people when we should not have is a particularly difficult one and yet it does make us so much more grateful for those genuine and loving heart connections that do not judge and love us just as we are.

    Thank you for being such a beacon of hope and understanding.



    1. Thank you, Sweetie. You are one of the prime examples of the beauties of disclosure. I think of all the things we would have missed 'not opening up'. It's scary as hell, but worth it, and as for all those times I tried and it didn't work out so well, I think I learned a lot then too… I learned how I could survive difficulties, I learned a little more about trust and when to be careful with it, and I learned when to start running and keep running! All my love!

  2. I really look forward to sitting in my rocker on that porch in the future with some congenial people who can share experiences beyond sports and shopping. Some real people would be much appreciated. People who are interesting and interested and genuine.

    Too bad there are no retirement homes for bloggers. Despite my comments I am not planning to do that soon but…

    1. Me too, Annette! I have to say it's my distinct pleasure to have met lots of real people by being real… the main difficulty is distance between us, but think of how close the internet brings us. I think it's pretty cool.

      As for retirement, I don't think we ever retire – we just go on blogging… :)

      Thanks for commenting! Blessings, Jane.

      P.S. I have been trying out adding some features to make sharing more easier from the blog. Are you having any trouble commenting? I'd be grateful to know. Thank you.

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