I Stopped Hiding My Disability, and It Opened Up New Worlds

Many people have had to conceal pieces of themselves to fit in in a conformist environment. This is my account of how I finally stopped masking my illness by being honest with myself and the world.  This essay describes how being honest to myself opened up new worlds and possibilities.

A Life in the Shadows

man inside hole looking up

I always felt compelled to hide a key part of my identity for years. My mental illness influenced my life and viewpoints. I suppressed my illness from even my closest friends and relatives out of fear of criticism and prejudice. True sincerity was surrendered for supposed approval in this shadowy world.  You see I had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder as a teenager, and I wore that diagnosis as an albatross around my neck for nearly two decades before finally making the difficult decision to embrace and share my illness with those around me who cared enough that they wouldn’t abandon me.

The Turning Point

There came a point in my life where I could no longer hide my anxiety any longer.  The combination of getting older, life stresses, and career challenges made my illness impossible to ignore. The notion that living genuinely was more essential than judgment drove this transformation. My life changed when I chose to embrace bravery and authenticity by revealing my diagnosis to those closest to me.

Unmasking the Disability

gray concrete road between green trees during daytime

Of course, I felt anxiety, uncertainty, and liberty as I began my journey to share my illness and impairment. The bold walk into the light taught me that, as Brené Brown said, 

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”

Breaking Down Stereotypes

Dispelling disability preconceptions was an unanticipated benefit of this insight. Friends, relatives, and coworkers showed empathy and understanding, not condemnation. It became clear that sometimes our dread of others’ reactions is more of a handicap than the illness itself.

A Sense of Belonging

As I continued to become my more authentic self, I began to feel more deeply connected to people in my life who I learned suffered from similar issues. I discovered that many of those who suffered similar issues as me had wasted many years of their lives trying to hide from their own reality. This new group provided support, understanding, and a sense of family I had never experienced.  My journey of self-discovery and authenticity was made with the help of those around me who offered their authentic selves, disabilities and all.

I often found comfort in the words of Maya Angelou: 

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value, no matter their color.”

The Power of Empathy

woman in gray sweater sitting beside woman in gray sweater

Sharing the challenges of my disabilities proved the power of empathy.  Friends and coworkers started asking about how they could be more understanding of my condition, and offered me grace when my anxiety disorder reared its ugly head.  Once, after a trying day at work full of stressful meetings, my boss came to me and privately asked if there was anything she could do to help me manage my stress and anxiety.  Just the fact that she knew what I was dealing with meant so much, and allowed me to remain much more at peace with the stress of the day. As my world opened up, I realized I could also teach and inspire others.

Empathy, as Helen Keller beautifully expressed, is 

“The most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

This new-found dialogue allowed me to break down barriers and foster understanding between the people I loved, co-workers, and friends.  This continues to be a journey, but one that I now embrace instead of shy away from.

Beautifully Broken

As the veil of secrecy was removed regarding my condition, I’ve been able to explore and discover myself in ways that I never anticipated. For instance, I’ve participated in previously inaccessible activities and possibilities. I’ve joined disability support organizations, volunteered for advocacy, and spoke publicly to increase awareness of anxiety disorders.  Even simple activities that once frightened me like travel now feel much more within reach.  This is because I can be “real” with the people I’m with, and get support when my condition becomes acute, without the guilt and shame that used to plague me when I kept my condition a secret.

The words of Nelson Mandela resonated with my newfound sense of purpose: 

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” 

What once felt impossible has now became a reality as I’ve discovered new passions and abilities.

Beautifully Brave

MacBook Pro

As I’ve shared my story and struggles over the years, I’ve often come to the realization of how much I’ve touched others. I like to think that I’v motivated friends and acquaintances to break free from self-imposed limits by showing them that living authentically and being vulnerable can be liberating.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, 

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” 

I’d like to think that my journey of authenticity has been a powerful catalyst for positive change in the lives of those around me.   As one of my friends so eloquently put it:

“You are beautifully broken, but beautifully brave.”

Changing Perspectives

Over time, I’ve found that living my true authentic life has made an impact on the people around me.  Whether it’s as simple as sharing a deeper level of understanding, or even being the catalyst for someone to make a positive change in their own lives, I have not once regretted the decision to share my diagnosis and be my true self.

My challenges have not gone away, nor do I always feel completely understood by my friends and loved ones.  That is just the reality of it all.  But, I’ve put an end to the shame and secrecy surrounding my anxiety disorder, which has had the unexpected effect of reducing the frequency and severity of my anxiety attacks.  

A New World of Possibilities

Choosing to stop hiding my disability has opened up a new world of possibilities for my life.  Having discovered the importance of self-acceptance, the power of empathy, and the transformative impact of authenticity, I feel at peace and comfortable in my own skin.

This  journey is a poignant reminder of the words of Rumi: 

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” 

I made a conscious decision to unfold my own myth, breaking the constraints of conformity and embracing the fullness of my true identity.

A Call to Authenticity

brown wooden puzzle game board

My story serves as a call to authenticity. It reminds us of the power of vulnerability, the importance of embracing our true selves, and impact it can have on our lives and the lives of those around us.

In the words of the author Brené Brown, 

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

My ongoing journey underscores that authenticity is not just a personal choice but also a profound opportunity to impact the world positively. By choosing to be true to ourselves, we can inspire change, challenge stereotypes, and create a more inclusive and empathetic society.

So go out there and be beautifully brave!

 | Website

Jay Scott is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur who enjoys a good story! Stories that help us understand the human condition are at the heart of what he likes to explore and write about. Jay lives in Texas with his wife and two children.

Rachel Hillman

Rachel Hillman is a freelance story writer from Philadelphia who specializes in stories about our furry friends that make a difference in our lives.  She is a blogger, foodie, and dog lover.

Scroll to Top