2 min read

the hidden cost of keeping secrets (your mental health)

the hidden cost of keeping secrets (your mental health)
Photo by Etienne Boulanger / Unsplash

William tries to drown himself in Lake Michigan, because of the secrets he keeps.

William has many secrets. He isn't happy in his marriage. He never wanted a kid. He doesn't want to become a professor. He has depressed parents and a dead sister.

No one in William's life knows any of this.

Fortunately, William doesn't die at the lake, and later receives some good advice from a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist tells William, "I want you to write down every secret, every part of your life that you kept from the people close to you."

I want you to write down every secret, every part of your life that you kept from the people close to you.

William has some false starts, but eventually he does share his secrets.

William is able to become close to the people in his life because of this. He is vulnerable with others, and that enables others to be vulnerable with him.

In time, he also builds a life that is a better fit, because he's honest about what he wants. He gets into a better marriage. He becomes a physiotherapist.

You get the sense he no longer feels alone.

Everyone knows his secrets, yet they love him anyways.

He develops the psychiatrist's advice into a mantra, "no bullshit and no secrets." His tribe is inspired. One person in his life even takes it as a parenting philosophy.

No bullshit, and no secrets.

The more secrets you keep, the shittier your mental health.

Conversely, the more open you are, the better your mental health.

I've seen this play out in my life. I wasn't honest with my parents in college. I lied and kept secrets. I told them I didn't drink when I did. I hid the fraternity I was in—and loved—for a long time. I never shared the people I crushed on or dated.

It was a stressful period. I found it hard to be close to my parents. I couldn't receive support when I needed it. And I felt alone at times, since there were parts of me that I felt would be rejected if I did share.

After college I revealed all the secrets.

And to my surprise, it wasn't a big deal.

Yes, each secret did result in lecture and conflict for some days. My parents are conservative and didn't approve of much of it. But in the end, we became closer for it and I felt lighter.

So now I have a rule for myself. If there is something in my life really emotionally important to me, some people close to me have to know. It might be as simple as, I love this kdrama that's airing right now so much. Or it might be something deeper, like I stopped seeing that girl or I am struggling at work. In any case I always feel lighter and more seen when I share.

No bullshit, and no secrets.