The Benefits of TMI

How oversharing is underrated

Dear world, I am an intelligent, capable, successful woman, and I have PTSD. That’s post-traumatic stress disorder, for the uninitiated. You know, that thing that soldiers get that makes them angry and uncooperative. I was never a soldier. I got my PTSD right here at home in a local hospital. But that’s a story for another post.

Okay, you can stop cringing now. I know. You probably don’t know me very well, or at all. So that’s a TMI right? But what if it’s not? What if all this hiding our broken mental states is just way more work than it’s worth? Do you have any idea how hard it is to conceal a panic attack? Of course not. What inconsiderate fool would burden you with such information?

Me. Because panic attacks are really common, people should really know what they are.

Excuse me while I have a panic attack

I had one of those New Agey watershed moments a couple of years ago. I was visiting a family I didn’t know very well because my son is friends with their son. I sat at their kitchen table and ate cake. I started to feel a panic attack coming on. I’m not sure what triggered it. Maybe the room was too hot or the cake too rich. My mind started racing. What will I do? How will I escape? How can fix this so my son doesn’t miss his play date? What if I pass out?! How embarrassing!

Then I thought, f*ck this. I simply said, I’m not sure why but I’m having a panic attack. I need to stand outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. My hostess was very accommodating about the whole thing. She opened a window, I soon felt better, and we went on with or visit.

Wow. That was so easy. No turning myself inside out trying to “act normal”. No making crazy excuses to escape. Just tell the simple truth. Offer more information, if they happen to ask. That’s it. Why had this never occurred to me before?

If TMI were the norm

Now, imagine this was the norm. Imagine what would happen to stigma if we all just shared what we were feeling. Too depressed to work? Tell the truth. Yeah, I feel like my head is made of lead. Getting up in the morning is like dragging my butt out from under a pile of cold mud. I hurt all over. At my last job, I started considering suicide.

Who is going to tell you to “man up” after hearing that?! Okay, a lot of people, but you’ve still brought them one inch closer to understanding what it’s like to be depressed. Maybe, just maybe if they hear it enough times the penny will drop.

Does TMI make people uncomfortable? Absolutely. You know what else made (or makes) people uncomfortable? Racial integration of schools, gay marriage, and letting trans people pick their bathroom. Does that mean these inconvenient issues should get shoved under the rug? No. Way.

You know who fear of TMI helps? Abusers. People who have suffered abuse are terrified to tell their stories. They’re embarrassed. They can’t explain why they maybe stayed in an abusive relationship or contacted their abuser after the fact. The Jian Ghomeshi trial is a perfect example of this.

Ghomeshi’s accusers were excoriated by the defense and, to a lesser extent, by the media (shout out to Christie Blatchford’s biased and ignorant “reporting” for the National Post). Yes, they behaved in a way that seems contradictory to their stories of abuse. They definitely made mistakes. They made the fatal mistake of lying about their mistakes. But, in fact, their behavior makes perfect sense when interpreted through the lens of trauma.

In a world without TMI-phobia, maybe, just maybe those women would have spoken out sooner. Maybe, just maybe, police and public ignorance and bias about abuse would be eroded a culture of sharing. Maybe.

A Challenge

With this post, I’m officially throwing down the gauntlet. Traumatized and mentally ill of the world, I say stop hiding. Stop trying to “pass” for well. This doesn’t mean sharing your tale of woe to anyone stuck in line with you. It means answering truthfully to questions like, why don’t you have a job? when you’re too depressed to work or, where are you going? when you need that breath of fresh air to stave off a panic attack. Let’s show the world what mental illness looks like – it looks like everyone. You and me. Some of us function incredibly well. Some of us need more support. Our pain and trauma are nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s stop acting like it is.

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    #anxiety#depression#health care#healthcare#Jian Ghomeshi#medical writing#medicine#mental illness#panic#panic attack#post-traumatic stress disorder#PTSD#sharing#TMI#trauma


    1. KTD - February 22, 2016 @ 7:45 pm

      This article is a breath of fresh air! We don’t share because of the universal fear that if people knew the real us they would know for certain that we are unworthy of love, acceptance, etc. March on you brave soul!

    2. Josephine Sciortino - February 24, 2016 @ 8:15 am

      Alison…love the post! Sharing = making yourself more vulnerable = strength! Thanks for normalizing TMI. There have been many times in my life where I’ve shared a personal story to someone and EVERY TIME I hear “Wow…yeah…I feel that way too…thanks for saying that.” Let’s build empathy by sharing our stories.

    3. Alison Palkhivala - February 24, 2016 @ 10:23 am

      Thanks KTD and Josephine for your input. Let’s all TMI!

    4. Su - February 26, 2016 @ 11:00 am

      You are my hero! Suzanne

    5. Simon - March 11, 2016 @ 5:36 am

      Uh No, I’m pretty sure thats not nmroal And panic attacks are WAYYY different than seizures.Panic attacks are when you feel like the world is closing and you are going to die. There is mass amounts of adreniline pumping through you, and you can’t breathe. Seizures are when you have uncontrolled movements in unconciousness or semi-conciousness. You don’t really feel much during seizures. It might be a way your body is trying to get rid of excess energy? Try going for a run everytime you feel the need to have a seizure . If you aren’t hurting yourself, I see nothing wrong with it though.

      • Alison Palkhivala - March 14, 2016 @ 3:36 pm

        Hi Simon, welcome to my world. I can’t help but wonder if you’re responding to a different blog, since I did not mention seizures in this post. But I’m going to take advantage of it, because it raises an important point. Most of the time, seizures can be easily distinguished from panic attacks, but they can be confused with each other. I had a friend with a common pattern of waking up from sleep with a panic attack. Anyone who knows panic would recognize this for what it was, but her doctor prescribed anti-seizure medication. Weird. Also, if your seizures occur in a part of the brain associated with fear, most commonly the amygdala, they could certainly be associated with feelings of panic. The essential difference between the two is a seizure is a purely uncontrollable and unconscious event in which some of all of your brain misfires and leads to transient states in which you are not conscious of what is going on around you. You may or may not fall down or experience convulsions, depending on the type and duration of seizure. Panic attacks are an entirely conscious event. Your brain is also misfiring, in a sense, but you remain fully awake and in control, though you may feel out of control. Rarely if ever would a panic attack cause you to collapse. It is theoretically possibly it could trigger a fainting spell in someone who is susceptible but this would be rare. In fact, I’ve never heard of it happening without some other trigger (like an injection or bleeding or something) and I am a fainter! Certainly feeling like you are going to faint or fall down is a common panic attack symptom, however.

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