There was a long time that I tried to keep my mental illness a secret, but I eventually decided to acknowledge it publicly. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately I have decided it is a better way to live. I can be open and honest, without feeling that I need to lie to protect myself. If there are negative consequences to speaking openly about my illness, I take a great deal of comfort in the inspiration that my writing has been to others who suffer.
I was moved to write this particular article today after I saw the movie A Beautiful Mind last night.
It is the story of John Forbes Nash, a brilliant mathematician who was struck down early in his career by severe schizophrenia. He suffered in obscurity for decades (tormented by hallucinations and paranoia) before he recovered in the early 90's. Dr. Nash was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics for the pioneering work he did on Game Theory as his Ph.D. thesis in the early 1950's.
Throughout my life, I have always felt it important to speak out about the things that I believed in. That's why I posted John J. Chapman's Make a Bonfire of Your Reputations on my website after I first read it in The Cluetrain Manifesto.
However, I have not always been such an eloquent speaker. It took me a long time to learn to write well, and when I was young I was unable to speak convincingly at all. It has happened quite a few times that speaking out caused me trouble, and it was especially difficult to get anyone to listen during the times my illness made it difficult to organize my thoughts.
It is likely that you've heard or read the ramblings of a mentally ill person and written them off as inspired by delusions. But there is often truth behind even the most paranoid manifestoes, sometimes a terrible truth, if only you were able to decipher their real meaning.
I have found that getting people to listen to me doesn't require that I avoid embarrassing or forbidden topics, only that I discuss them eloquently enough that I gain my readers respect by the way I express my ideas. I'd like to suggest that you learn to write and speak well too, if you have something to say that you think others won't want to hear.
One of the reasons I used to work so hard to keep my illness a secret is that while in the grip of my symptoms I did a lot of things that I regret. Most people regarded me as a pretty weird guy in general, and having such a reputation to live down does not help when trying to establish a career in a competitive industry or in trying to find the affection of a loving woman. It might well happen that some who knew me when I was the most ill might post embarrassing comments in response to this article. It might also happen that potential consulting clients - or my current ones - read this and wonder about my competence.
It is a risk that I accept in order to live true to myself. While at times I am in the grip of insanity, I take full responsibility for everything I have ever done. The best defense that I have is to let my words speak on my behalf.
As Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers said:
Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind - even if your voice shakes.