February 8, 2016 by Alison Palkhivala
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?
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.
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.