Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just Reach Deep Down and Let the Scary Out

By Lisa McElroy

“I might seem like I’m brave, but deep inside I’m terrified.”
“Why did you never tell me this before?”


Earlier today, when I published an essay in Slate about my experience with mental illness, I might have seemed brave.  But deep inside, I was terrified.

Despite my fear, I decided to publish the piece, anyway, mostly because I had spent most of my life, and all of my life in academia, living in fear.  Worrying.  Panicking.

My friend Mark McKenna, an IP professor at Notre Dame, was patient and kind in listening to me debate whether or not to “come out” of the closet about my anxiety disorder.  He asked me why I wanted to do it.  I told him that I wanted to help others in the academy who were not (as many might have thought) merely eccentric or socially awkward, but who were – like me – living with a real disease.  I wanted to encourage them to seek treatment.  I wanted to tell them that they were not alone.

I wanted to make the tenure process less terrifying.

But Mark pointed out to me that there was one more benefit to telling my story:  I would allow people I respected to really know me.  And the inestimable Dahlia Lithwick suggested that I might get to know some of you better, too, as you told me your stories. 

As Sully answered Mike’s “Why did you never tell me this before?” question in Monsters University, “We were never really friends before.”

And now?  Now we have a chance to be.  


  1. Prof. McElroy,

    Thank you for the first-hand account of the disabling terror that one experiences when in the grips of unrelenting anxiety.

    I have also suffered for my entire life with generalized anxiety disorder with intermittent panic attacks.

    Unless you have been there, it is difficult to convey just how disabling this illness can be for those who are afflicted and their loved ones.

    May your future be bright. And may you keep the monsters at bay.

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