A few days ago, I was in the middle of a session with a new eating disorder therapist when she came dangerously close to revealing my best-kept secret — my medical history. Immediately, my heart raced and my palms sweat out of fear that I would be judged and the trust I had fought so hard to establish would be broken.
I left the therapy session feeling wholeheartedly defeated. Why couldn’t I come right out and share that I have cerebral palsy? Why was it so easy for me to disclose my mental health diagnoses but not my physical ones? And why did I still feel so much shame around my health identities when I’ve freely, openly written about them online for the past three years?
I didn’t expect to so quickly reconnect with the power of sharing my diagnoses and my story. But just two days later, my perspective on my health story shifted dramatically when I set foot in The Mighty’s headquarters for the first time in my life.
I arrived at an unassuming brick building with a small Mighty plaque beside it, eager to meet staff and fellow contributors for a holiday card decorating party. As I made my way to the office entrance, I anxiously rehearsed an introduction in my head, unsure of exactly how I’d be received.
As soon as I entered the room, though, my fears melted away. I was greeted with warm hugs and enthusiastic questions, and miraculously enough, The Mighty’s staff knew exactly who I am.
I received a full tour of the office, met more staff (and a couple of adorable dogs) and finally settled in to decorate holiday cards. As I decorated, I discovered that conversation with my fellow Mighties was easy. I didn’t feel an overwhelming need to force myself into an able-bodied, mentally healthy mold, as I so often do in the wider world. Here, I felt safe. Here, I felt free to be myself.
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In a single moment, I recognized an undeniably powerful truth: these were my people. I was sitting in a room full of new friends who all had health conditions, just like I do. They didn’t care that my hand shook or that I anxiously jiggled my leg as I wrote or that my stomach looked bloated from re-feeding. They, like me, just cared that hospital patients everywhere received plenty of our lovingly decorated cards and that we were here, sitting in The Mighty’s office, connecting with each other over shared experiences and holiday spirit.
It immediately struck me that had I never spoken my truth and shared my health story, I wouldn’t be here, being immediately recognized and warmly welcomed by strangers-turned-friends with similar experiences, feeling authentic joy for the first time in months and wishing patients well as I chatted, laughed and played with dogs. I recalled the years I spent feeling isolated and misunderstood, reading stories on The Mighty and secretly wishing I was brave enough to share my own. I reflected on the exhilarating day my first mental health piece was published on The Mighty, the liberating moment when I shared with thousands of Mighty readers that I’m living with cerebral palsy, the freeing self-awareness I gained when I recounted the moment I discovered that I have an eating disorder. If I had never gathered up the courage to share so many pieces of my health story, I never would have met the people who spark happiness in me and make my life worth living.
After several final rounds of big hugs, I left The Mighty’s headquarters feeling profoundly connected to the patients we wrote cards for, the Mighties I met and my own story. For the first time in years, I felt like my health identities truly are acceptable, a wealth of blessings that connect me with others instead of detaching me from the world. I rediscovered that my health story is worth sharing without fear or shame because it’s just like any other piece of my life — a messy, beautiful part of who I am. And of course, I resolved to tell my new therapist the truth about my medical history because if my fellow Mighties can accept my health conditions and I can embrace my own story, she can accept and embrace it, too.