I know a woman who has been in multiple abusive relationships in the past. As a result, she has been dealing with many mental health issues as well, and I did not know any of this about her until recently, when she started talking very openly about both issues and her own experience with them. There are those who tell her that she shouldn’t talk about these things, that all she is doing is hurting her previous abusers by spreading this information about them, or making herself look bad because she is publicly admitting to dealing with mental illness, and yet she continues to talk about them. And she talks about them because this is how she feels, this is her experience, and staying quiet about it was only making her life worse, only making her suffer more.

I know a woman who recently got out of a bad relationship, during which she was neglecting her health and her relationship with other people. And when asked how she was, she didn’t just smile and say “fine” like we are taught to do; she opened up and told her story. She explained what she had been though, how she was trying to reorder her life into something that would make her happy. When I heard her do this, I was a little bit taken aback, because I could already hear the comments that I have heard about people who are eager to share their personal thoughts and experiences: that no one cares, just say you’re fine and move on, everyone’s too busy dealing with their own dumb lives to hear about yours – but personally, I disagree. I liked hearing her story. I thought that she was incredibly brave to be willing to tell it. She risked being silenced, but instead she opened up, and I felt like I got to know her a little bit better because of it. I saw her humanity, not the front that we are all taught to put up all the time.

I know a man who recently lost his dog. To give you an idea about what sort of man this is, he’s a grown man who goes to the gym very regularly, and as a result he is a very large, very muscular man, and his dog of choice has always been a chihuahua. He loves his chihuahuas. And today, he was telling the story of how he his dog passed away, and as he told it, I could tell that he was very emotionally affected, even now. He told about how, the day after it happened, he went to the gym only because he didn’t want to face an empty home, and all throughout his workout, he cried over the loss of his dog. He talked about how he used to take her for walks with her sparkly, pink collar, and people would make comments about him because he’s a big man with a tiny dog, but he didn’t care. He loved her.

I tell you about these people because, today, I find myself awed by them: the people who are unapologetically themselves. The people who know that what they feel and who they are won’t always be accepted, but they express it anyway. There are too few of these people out there.

Because, end of day, we all experience things that not everyone is going to like, and this can be any number of things. Maybe you’re dealing with mental illness. Maybe you’re going through a hard time. Maybe you want to do something (harmless) that society tells you you shouldn’t because of something frivolous like your place in life or your gender identity. Maybe you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Maybe it’s any number of things that we as a society are told, again and again, that we can’t do, when there’s really no logical reason for it. There’s no reason to hide who you are, and doing so is only harmful in the long run.

When you hide who you are, you hurt who you are. You internalize the idea that what you are is wrong if it has to be hidden, which can then turn into self-loathing, or feelings of guilt. When you hide the fact that you are dealing with mental illness, then you don’t ever improve – you just began to feel as though it’s your fault, as though you’re just looking for attention, you’re weak or stupid, when this isn’t the case. You’re ill. That’s all.

When you hide how you’re feeling, those feeling don’t go away; they fester. You feel as though they’re wrong, so you don’t act on them, but because you think that they’re wrong, you punish anyone who does act on them. You mock them, look down on them, tell them that they’re stupid for expressing how they feel, that no one cares to hear it. End of day, there are many people who say these sorts of things because they have restrained themselves to the point that they are not free to be themselves.

And we should all have that freedom.

But I know; it’s scary to be unapologetically yourself. I get that, trust me. We live in a society that tells us that so many things are wrong that it’s impossible for us to be completely right. And when you’re constantly told that something is wrong, it’s difficult for us to turn our minds around on that regard. But it’s worth doing, because it’s worth knowing that you are not wrong.

And when you are yourself, fully and completely, not afraid to be dismissed as stupid or selfish or silly or wrong (because when you are yourself, you will be dismissed as this by some people, and that’s okay), a wonderful thing starts to happen: you will be loved for who you really and truly are. Your relationships with other people will be much deeper, much more personal, because people will always know the real you, not some front that you put up to be considered “acceptable”. There will always be those who look down on you, but there will be those who admire you too, those you see you in all of your great you-ness and say, “wow, I wish that I could be that unashamed”.

We all long for freedom, and this is one great way that you can find it: the freedom to be who you are. The freedom to not care what others think about that. The freedom to love yourself and all you are, even if who you are is messy, emotional, hurt, struggling, outside the norm, or just trying their best. There’s nothing wrong with being any of that; the only thing that’s wrong is forcing people to suppress themselves.

Published by Ciara Hall