Imagine living your life convinced that hiding who you are is what’s best for you and the people around you. Imagine keeping such a big secret about your life that it fundamentally changes who you are. When you have a secret, you bury what makes you different rather than proclaim it with pride or overcome the hard things about it. It’s easy to convince yourself that hiding feels safer. It also makes it much harder to participate in even the simplest joys of life.
I know, because the first time I buried a part of myself I was 16. I had just buried my mom.
My mother, Kathleen, was a beautiful loving woman who struggled with mental health issues and depression for years. She died of suicide, and the stigma lasted long after the whispers subsided. I realized this was something no one wanted totalk about, so I walked around with this colossal secret. I felt I needed to keep myself safe from judgment, to protect my family. But in doing so, I had no way of discovering if there was anyone else like me, going through what I was going through. I couldn’t heal. Which also meant I could never achieve real safety. The energy I put into keeping my secret kept me from being fully present in my life, and I had to work ten times harder at everything I did as a result.
All because I worried people would think differently about me.
I had a million reasons why I couldn’t tell anyone. There were a million of them. So I mastered keeping secrets and avoiding hard conversations. Thinking back on myself in those years, there’s a lot of advice I would offer. Promises I’d like to make. But the first thing I’d say? Avoiding the hard conversations won’t save you any hurt.
Why I Do IDB Work
It was not until I had my own children that I realized I could not allow a culture of secrecy in my family. I finally attended a Suicide Survivor’s Group in my thirties and the connections I made did more for my healing process than anything I had tried for years on my own. Hiding my Mom’s mental health struggle didn’t save me from hurting, it just meant that I did it alone. My struggle with being honest about her death is just one of the reasons why I wanted to work on Inclusion, Diversity and Belonging initiatives. Never again did I want someone else feeling like they had to hide in this world. Feeling scared all the time is no way to live.
It’s been one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
It’s still vulnerable and scary. I’m still learning. There’s still so much work to be done. The more I work alongside IDB professionals, the more I want to continue the hard conversations of belonging, to help others who—for whatever reason—find themselves in similar situations.
There’s an old adage about how secrets make people sick. At the very least, they stop us from being our best. IDB is an increasingly critical function for organizations, as it replaces the false, limiting safety of secrets with the true, empowering safety of acceptance. IDB is about far more than a way to recognize differences: when it’s done well, it’s about taking a stand and saying never again should anyone have to hide who they are.