Sharing Your Story

Sharing the story of our struggles can be a powerful way to create connection with one another and perhaps feel a bit less alone, but it gets tricky when it comes to our kids. Who do we disclose to and how do we do it? How do we walk the line between “we all have mental health” and “not my story to tell”? Join us to hear what the Mental Health Mamas have to say about sharing our stories.

Notes and Mentions

Episode Mentions:

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

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This podcast is sponsored by: Better Help

Transcript

Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

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Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.

Serena: A focus of this podcast from the beginning has been about sharing our stories and the stories of others who are like us and also people not like us. Tina, you’ve been quite open about your own mental health and have also talked about some of the struggles your family has faced over the years. Was there ever a time when you were not comfortable sharing your story?

Tina: Well, as you know, I’m bit of an extrovert, (cough cough)

Serena: A bit??

Tina: But I would say as my child was growing up and even now sometimes I have not been comfortable. There’s so much stigma out there, while I felt and feel comfortable most times, I always want to be conscious of what and how much I share to protect my family from those who still might not be in the kind of “we all have mental health” place.

Serena: Yeah. This is a topic that comes up a lot with the families we work with. What I know is that sharing your story can be very powerful, but it can also be very scary. So when do we talk about our struggles? How much do we share? Who do we share with?

Tina: Right. So in a perfect world where mental health stigma didn’t exist, we could share freely about ourselves and our children without any fear of consequence.

Serena: Exactly. And while we will continue to work towards that perfect world, let’s talk about how we manage this now.

Tina: Yes, let’s do that.

Serena: So let’s talk about our kids first. I hear from a lot of parents who are unsure how to share a diagnosis or may be afraid of sharing information with anyone.

Tina: So, clearly the decision to disclose your child’s struggles are ultimately up to you as the parent, but we will say that keeping it a secret just adds to the stigma. Recently, both Serena and I read the book, Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates. In this book she talked about stigma being, “an effort to suppress someone’s voice” and she goes on to say, “The best way to fight back is to speak up—to say openly the very thing that others stigmatize. It’s a direct attack on the self-censorship that stigma needs to survive.”

Serena: That is a great quote and it’s also a great book. I love the idea that we can help reduce stigma simply by having a conversation. When it comes to my kids, for me it’s about having conversations with people who my children interact with on a regular basis. That could be people like teachers, coaches, childcare providers, people like that.

Tina: Yes. So in order for my child to interact in the world, I felt the need to have, what I would consider private conversations about what she needed to succeed. And they were private.

Serena: I also think it’s important to point out that this is not necessarily about a diagnosis although it could be. I think a great example of this is all the paperwork we tend to fill out at the beginning of each school year. Often included is a, like a “getting to know you” paper from the teacher. This for me, as the parent, was an opportunity to share things about my child like strengths and challenges, that sort of thing. And I always took that opportunity. Sometimes I would include a diagnosis, but it was really more about things that wouldn’t necessarily be picked up on right away in a classroom full of kids. Something I actually remember writing every single one of my kids was that they needed time to observe a new or challenging activity before jumping in to participate. When forced to join in immediately, they were likely to refuse which then might be viewed as bad behavior. So Tina, I’m curious, do you remember doing anything like this for your kids?

Tina: Yes for sure. I think I always wanted to make certain the teachers understand that, although what they’d see on the outside was a bright, talkative, maybe too talkative, lovely child, there would often be so much she was holding in during the daytime to kind of uphold that image for others.

Serena: Yeah, I totally get that. So what about sharing a diagnosis with someone?

Tina: This is a little trickier, right, because labels can be scary, but the truth is, labels can also give kids what they need and I have always said, I don’t care what label it is, let’s just get the help that we need.

Serena: Mmhm. Right. It’s a frustrating part of the support system within schools and elsewhere for that matter. Depending on your school or even your teacher, your child may need to have a label attached to them to receive any kind of sort of differentiated support. Again, in a perfect world, all of our kids would get their needs met without any paperwork involved.

Tina: Yes, yes yes. And what about outside of school? How do you share that information with people outside of your family?

Serena: So for me and my family, the short answer is, it depends. It’s a balance between giving others the information they need to support my child and not sharing our entire story. There are some activities, when I think specifically like physical activities, where often I don’t need to share anything. In the case of something like a sleepover, that’s trickier. I will likely have a conversation with the other parent so that they know what to expect and won’t be surprised by anxiety showing up. What about you Tina?

Tina: So I really struggled with this, for sure. And while my child did a few sleepovers, it was never good. I did not share with other parents. Partly because I saw their lives as FAR less complicated than mine and maybe even perfect to use the P word. And what happens at sleepovers? Well, sugar, caffeinated drinks, and literally no sleep! And so I hated them. And when it came to sleepover camps, those were FAR too hard. How could I tell a team of people (usually teenagers or young people who weren’t parents) who dealt with “normal” kids most of the time that my child had so many anxious thoughts, specifically around OCD that it was hard to talk about that in any kind of normal terms.

Serena: Mmm. Yeah. I’ve certainly avoided situations that just seemed too complicated or too likely to not end well. And then there’s the idea that when we share too much of our kid’s stories that we’re wandering into the “not our story to tell” territory. So Tina, I’ve heard you use that before. I’ve heard you say that before. Can you talk more about that?

Tina: Sure. I struggled with this for a long time and still quite honestly struggle. There’s a fine line between what I say about my experiences and how much I tell of my child’s story. And just to be transparent, I sometimes cross that line. And now that my kids are adults, as I said before, I never want to say too much even though it’s illegal to discriminate. I will say that twice. It is illegal to discriminate. We know that the unconsciousness of some employers just can’t help it. And I do want listeners to know that my family knows that I co-produce this podcast and that we are, in general, very open about all of our mental health struggles. Most of what I share is about past struggles and as you know, we all have our moments of struggle and right this minute, we are all doing pretty well. Mostly because….we have the support we need! And that’s what I want people to hear. It’s all about the journey and I often see the opportunity to share so that others can relate and perhaps learn from our journey. Does that make sense?

Serena: Yes, absolutely. For me, this is a two-fold kind of thing. One piece of it is that I do share some stories about my kids but I do so with their permission. They are 100 percent behind that. I also try to focus on what these stories are like for me, as the parent and not what’s going on for my child because I’m affected and what I’m feeling IS my story to tell. I am careful not to share too much. The other piece of this is that in my family we really do our best to normalize the whole thing. This is who we are and not only do I want to advocate for my kids to have their needs met, I want them to learn to be able to do the same thing for themselves.

Tina: Yes. Such an important piece of the puzzle, for sure.

Serena: So speaking of stories, I have to insert a quick one in here about one of my kids when she was in, I think she was in 1st grade at the time. She was working with the school psychologist and that person, the psychologist would come into the classroom to support group activities. My daughter proudly introduced her to the entire class as “my therapist”. And can you guess what happened next?

Tina: Everyone wanted a therapist?

Serena: Yes! Every single first grader in the class wanted their own therapist! I still laugh about it. It’s such a great example of normalizing mental health and therapy.

Tina: That is awesome! I just love that kid!

Serena: And what about our own mental health? So Tina, as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, you’ve been open about needing and seeking mental health support in these wacky times. Can you share a little bit about what that’s been like for you?

Tina: You mean the sharing of my own story? Sure. I guess that sharing for me, right now in my life, is not that hard. I have learned SO very much about normalizing mental health, how to take good care of myself, how to lean on my trusted people and more than anything, really respecting my journey enough to realize that if people have feels and opinions about my openness about my struggles or my seeking support, that does NOT belong to me. That being said, I have a stable job that I love that supports me very well with my mental health. I said I used EAP so they support me. You know, I find that talking about my mental health really freely drives connection with others.

Serena: Yeah. I speak from experience that when we are willing to share just a bit of our own struggles that often that allows someone else to talk a bit more freely and feel a little less alone. And here I think we can refer back to the idea we’ve shared before on the podcast that comes from Brene Brown that you should share your story with someone who has earned the right to hear it. What this means to me is that we shouldn’t expect to share our life story with everyone we meet. Even if we chose to do that, the person we’re telling may not be able to hold our story in a way that would be helpful to us.

Tina: Right. Sharing your story with the right person should feel good and helpful, and not leave you feeling worse. And part of sharing my story here is that I know that those of you listening can really relate. We have heard from you. We know that you are feeling connected and we love that! We love that.

Serena: Yeah. I’d also like to point out that there is more than one way to share your story. We’ve been talking about the idea of talking to others, but there are other ways to share that might feel good to you or maybe even better than talking.

Tina: Maybe like writing?

Serena: Yeah, absolutely. I find writing a great way to share my story in a way that is completely controlled by me. It can be really cathartic and you never have to share more than you want to. You could write something and keep it to yourself or put it out to the world. And you could even write it anonymously and still put it out to the world.

Tina: And you are such a good writer, Serena. Love reading your writings. Regardless, we hope that you will find a safe-feeling way to share some of your story. In our parent Zoom chat this week (yes, we have a parent Zoom chat) we read and talked about a section from Brene Brown’s book the Gifts of Imperfection. She talks about the zoom in and zoom out lens. When you are, as I sometimes say, deep down in it, it is like a zoom in lens. You can’t quite see anything but that microscopic part of the picture. When you are able to zoom out, you are able to see that you are not the only one and find true connection with others who have been deep down in it.

Serena: Yes, I love that idea of being able to zoom out to see the bigger picture and find connection with others. I’m going to repeat something that a recent guest on our podcast shared with us. Elvina Scott so beautifully said, “A lot of our loneliness is because we haven’t shared our darkness.”

Tina: Oh yes, I love that! And so podcast friends, we are, as always very grateful to all of you for listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and sharing with others. You will also find more content on our website, NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks for listening!

Serena: Bye!

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