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Why I Choose to Write About Mental Illness Under a Pen Name

March 19, 2012 Natasha Tracy

Last week, I wrote a post stating that “Natasha Tracy” is my nom de plume – it is my writing name and not my legal name. Some people showed concern over this and felt it was inconsistent with my convictions regarding stigma and standing up for one’s rights.
I would now like to respond to these concerns regarding my own choices, writing and reasons.

Disclosing Your Mental Illness

I get asked quite frequently about when and how to disclose you have a mental illness. I have responded on disclosing to family, significant others and employers. The one thing I tell people more often than anything else is: do what is right for you. Disclose to people you think are safe. Put your own wellness ahead of telling others. Take your needs into account. In general, carefully think through “coming out” as mentally ill because once the cat’s out of the bag on that topic, you cannot put it back in.

In fact, I explicitly recommended that bloggers remain anonymous online for reasons that relate to their own safety.

Why I Choose Not to Disclose My Name

There are several reasons I choose not to use my real name when writing.

1. Hate groups, stalkers and those who would do me harm.

Here and elsewhere I am read by tens of thousands of people, which is great, but in addition to helping many people, it also means that there are going to be people who are going to hate me for my point of view. This is okay. This is just the internet at work. Unfortunately, such online hatred can easily bleed into real life hatred in the form of stalking and even physical violence.

2. Work.

I don’t just make my living as a mental health writer – I work in the tech industry as well. And it is an unfortunate reality that if I am Googled before a job interview and my mental health history comes up, I am not going to get the job. No employer wants to know that their possible employee has been hospitalized for suicidal ideation.

3. Family.

While I don’t consider this a major factor, I don’t believe it’s right to name people (like my father and mother) in my blog and have their security compromised. My mother owns a business in a small town and she doesn’t need the publicity from seeing the kind of things I disclose online.

While I believe that a person’s mental illness shouldn’t affect the way others treat them, that is simply not the world in which we live. And in a world where I have to pay rent and buy kitty litter and count on businesses to write the checks that allow for that, I can’t afford, personally, to take the chance of becoming unhirable.

Thanks to everyone for their comments and insight on this matter. And as for the people who were surprised that I use a pen name, I apologize. I certainly didn’t intend to be misleading or hurtful.

What is True

To be clear, everything I say here, my picture, my videos are all me and are all true and real. Partly, my nom de plume gives me greater ability to be honest in that way.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Tags: Why? writing

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, March 19). Why I Choose to Write About Mental Illness Under a Pen Name, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/03/why-i-choose-to-write-about-mental-illness-under-a-pen-name



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Anna Lente
says:
November, 26 2017 at 4:47 am
I don't know if anyone will see this comment since this article is from 5 years ago, but I just wanted to say that I feel your frustration... I write about my mental illnesses under the name Anna Lente. I have bipolar disorder and dissociative identity disorder. I care a lot about raising awareness and fighting stigma and stereotypes... but I am currently in grad school to become a counselor and I know there is a strong stigma against counselors with mental illness (although many of us have them!). There is particularly strong stigmas against bipolar and DID. I was kicked out of one grad program once I revealed I have mental illnesses, they said I was a liability who would overidentify with clients. Now I write under a website under a pen name but I have been frustrated because I've applied to other websites that won't allow me to use a pen name. They say I need to "stand behind" my work and have journalistic integrity. I try to explain the discrimination and hate I can face if I come out online. In my personal life I am very open. Anyways, thank you for sharing your and my point of view about pen names. I wish things weren't this way but it is a reality that they are. For me, using my real name online is a risk that isn't worth it right now, not for this stage in my career. I just wish that I could find more places that I could write under a pen name other than the one website....
Patti
says:
August, 9 2015 at 10:38 pm
This is such an inspiring post. I have been wracking this around in my brain for the last few months (whether or not to write under a pen name or not).

Thankfully, I stumbled upon your blog and this post. I want you to know, it is 100 percent understandable and OK for you to writer under a pen name. Your safety is what is important!!
gregg
says:
August, 1 2014 at 5:30 pm
you go girl thank you so so so much
what a nice
pen name

sincerely Gregg that's my real name
i like it
Bipolar Doctor
says:
October, 3 2013 at 10:45 am
I think it is an excellent decision as Internet gives us the liberty to do so and we can save ourselves from going public especially when so much is going on with our lives.

Keep it up :)
Dan Hoeweler
says:
March, 13 2013 at 11:21 pm
Hello, this is Dan Hoeweler from the "Schizophrenia Blog". Normally I don't read other peoples blogs on HealthyPlace, but I stumbled across this article and found it interesting. I don't blame you for using a pseudonym, though I think it wouldn't be as negative an experience as you might think. Part of this is that you have some notability as a writer which trumps having a mental illness in many ways. The people that give me problems are mostly backward, ignorant people that I don't care much for anyhow. I have been threatened, face to face, in the past with physical violence by a couple of people and I'm a fairly strong, tough guy. So yes, this is a problem. Nevertheless I never felt that "coming out" was a mistake. Anyhow I don't much blame you for using a pseudonym, and I wish you the best.
martin cardozo
says:
September, 22 2012 at 8:46 am
I've been following your blog for a while now, and while you're writing under an assumed name, having seen your photograph everyday,I could pick you out from the crowd. It's not that I'm a stalker nor would I stalk you at all but other people could; but I have a good memory of features of a person's face. Even if you dye your hair blue,and change your spects to RayBan, I could distinguish you.
the point I'm making or asking is,what's the difference on having your picture on your blog and writing in a nom de plum? what's the use? don't you think it is such an irony? I'm just worried for you and can't understand what you're trying to do....
John Morgan
says:
June, 17 2012 at 5:18 pm
Natasha - I think it's a sad commentary on the state of our society when those suffering with specific diseases have to hide in the shadows and draw pictures in the sand. It sort of reminds me of what Ann Frank went through when she had to hide from the Nazis during the German occupation of the Netherlands. But as someone who has suffered from bipolar disorder for over 20 years, I do understand the reason for your anonymity. If I put the word "bipolar" on a T-shirt and walked down my local main street, I'd be assaulted or shot within 15 minutes. With the aid of news media and an uneducated public, mental illness has eclipsed AIDS as the leprosy of the 21st century.
Should You Disclose Your Eating Disorder? Yes, No, and Maybe | Surviving ED
says:
April, 2 2012 at 5:23 am
[...] author of HealthyPlace’s award-winning blog, Breaking Bipolar, recently wrote about why she writes about mental illness under a pseudonym, creating a firestorm of protest from some readers.I had two thoughts about Natasha’s choice. [...]
Natasha Tracy
says:
March, 31 2012 at 5:48 am
Hi Birch,

Thanks. I appreciate that. I shall try. :)

- Natasha Tracy
Birch
says:
March, 28 2012 at 1:12 pm
I absolutely love your blogs (showering)I don't blame you for not using your real name. I have one under my real name that I keep deleting things off of-then one private one I feel more comfortable with. Keep up the great work!
Natasha Tracy
says:
March, 23 2012 at 8:34 am
Hi all,

Thanks for your support in this matter, it is appreciated. I didn't realize there would be any sort of backlash and I was unprepared for it. Thank-you for expressing some positive sentiments.

- Natasha
Susan Inman
says:
March, 22 2012 at 10:32 am
Natasha, I'm sorry that you've received any negative feedback about your decision to write under a nom de plum. You've certainly written a very clearly argued and informative rationale for your decision for people who weren't able to earlier empathize with your choice; hopefully, the destructive attacks on you will now stop. Thank you for the work you are doing.
k33mun
says:
March, 22 2012 at 4:47 am
I completely support your decision to use a pen name. I have suffered severe consequences from my bipolar becoming public knowledge. Certain family members have derided my "supposed illness" as merely a character flaw and worse. When it became common knowledge at work (through gabby HR individual), I was marginalized and shunted into a dead-end area of work. This after 6 years of glowing performance reviews and praise from all my superiors. I was basically forced out of the company. On the plus side, I found out who my real friends and family are! Thankfully I have found a job superior to the one I left as well. But, I am still dealing with the emotional fall-out of all the negativity aimed at me. I am sorry you must face the same situation but in a vastly more public sphere. Thank you for your honesty and bravery in the face of so much ignorance and idiocy. To those detractors and whiners, please keep your ignorant comments to yourself. Thank you.
chutty
says:
March, 21 2012 at 11:13 pm
hi natasha,

i'v been following your writings for a while now. i respect your decision as a writer to not reveal your true name. i don't feel betrayed by that. i like the honesty that shines through in your writing. for me its the content of your writing that counts.whether you choose to appear on the blog as natasha or in any other name is of little importance as far as i'm concerned.all i know is i find your writing very sincere, and i have no doubt at all that it comes from a person whose heart is in the right place when it comes to the advocacy of mental health issues.
Jennifer
says:
March, 20 2012 at 3:11 pm
I definitely agree with Natalie. I certainly can respect your decision, but also feel as though in order to enlighten the American public, we should stand together and be willing and brave enough to unveil our true identities.

Consider NAMI's Stigma Busters campaign. It's a concerted effort to raise awareness and teach people that it is hurtful to judge a person just because they have a mental illness.

I'm obviously not there yet, since I am not "out" on my blog. But I do hope to get there someday.

Jennifer
Natalie Jeanne Champagne
says:
March, 20 2012 at 4:34 am
Natasha,

My feelings on this? I understand how people can be, initially, a bit surprised. Maybe Angry. But I understand your perspective as a writer of mental health.

I use my real name but have, at times, questioned if I made the right choice. Stigma exists. I wonder, well, perhaps I might want to enter the work force as I did before writing for a living, prospective employers would look up my name. That's the reality. They may judge me. That is the reality.

People who might do us harm exist, as you mention, and it's a personal choice to protect oneself. Writers can be targets because we voice our opinion.

That is also the reality.

I find it interesting that this post has few comments and the last has many.

So, I can understand how people might feel, but further to this, I understand the need for privacy.

I personally respect your decision and, the writer in my has to point out, that I wish others would think about it a little bit more.

Writing about mental health our goal is shared: to reduce stigma but it is our choice whether or not we share our real name.

In the end, it is the content of your writing, our writing, that speaks for itself.

Just my thoughts.

-Natalie
Stephanie Hansen
says:
March, 19 2012 at 6:36 pm
Oh darlin'...I've read some more of the other responses and they hurt my soul. Oh they do. The innate truth of our human stories is all that matters. That is all that matters. Names be damned, they mean not a thing, not a thing at'all.

I painted a small rickety bookstand for my youngest stepdaughter (who read not a thing, but I read to her nightly so she wouldn't miss out on that world a'blessed) and on the edges of that bookstand I painted the words of Nietzshe: Even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter us and transform us." They were lost on here, but they broke my heart wide open. It was enough that I gave and was lost in wonder and pleasure for all those years. An extended childhood for me of being able to read aloud. On her deaf ears but not mine.

I believe still...even a thought, even a possibility, can shatter us and transform us.

Never stop writing. Never stop 'talking'. Never stop sharing. Someone is waiting to hear. Names mean nothing. Only the Truth. The Truth of Humanity. Of what it is to be Human.

In May I will exhibit a solo exhibition of art entitled "Hellbent" about the coming out of a bipolar depression of an artist to exhibit art...again...always again. The backgrounds will all be black and muddled thick textures but the figures will be somewhat represetative of 'pure' and angelic in way and vibrant and colourful and multihued and beautiful. Bright in the midst of darkness. Lots of textures and Life even when there seems no Life. Always there is viable textures. We are always "real"and there and we feel even though 'you' may not see our shape, we have shape, and we exist, always we exist.
Natasha Tracy
says:
March, 19 2012 at 5:57 pm
Hi Stephanie,

Well, in one person's opinion, I think you have some writing talent there so if I were you, I'd give it a go in whatever way makes sense for you.

I appreciate your support in this matter and I can see you have given it quite a bit of thought in your own life.

Thank-you for your kind words.

- Natasha
Stephanie Hansen
says:
March, 19 2012 at 5:28 pm
Now...I was one of those who was unaware that Natasha was writing under a nom de plume but there was no reason that I should have been and I support her 100%.

Natasha, suprisingly, commented that I was 'obviously a writer', and I was shocked and appreciative of that comment as I am a 'wannabe' writer as I have only written on friends' writer sites and have studied to be a writer and wanted to be a writer but not made my foray into the field. My bipolar disability makes it difficult (to say the least) to be consistent in my endeavours.

But when I do write it is about my passion, my passion about the life of people like myself struggling to life with childhood abuse and mental illness, and because my mother is deceased I feel I can write about our life together. But because the people who love her our not deceased I am bound to write with compassion an respect. But there are others in our life who I don't feel any great compassion or respect and so when I write about them I will write under a nom de plume. That is respect for the living. That is the writer's code. I am deeply bound to that.

The story is necessary and true and so I will tell it, but the name of the storyteller is not necessary, only the story. I will not tell a story that causes harm. I will only tell a story that may help. I have the right to tell the story of my life, but my name is not necessary to the telling of the story except to the people in my immediate life who love and respect me. In print it is not necessary. To the masses only the story and the truth matter. As it is with Natasha. Bless her. Love you Natasha for the stories you have brought to my life and to the lives of others like me. The truth will prevail. The humanity in the stories is not lost. The names matter only to you and your beloved.

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