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We are in the midst of the holiday season, and I am looking forward to the new year. 2017 was tough on my husband and me. My husband had four or five serious medical problems (not life-threatening of course, but terrifying as he had two occasions with fevers over 103). And I had two incidents of diverticulitis and a breast cancer scare that lasted most of the year (almost over now). But there is something different about this year than any of the others I have lived.

Since I went public with my diagnosis, I am more comfortable with myself. I am more comfortable with being who and what I am in almost every situation. Even with all the stressful medical situations, and even with all the bad news out of Washington D.C., I laugh louder, harder and more frequently than ever before ( I cry a lot, too, but that is common for me – I have a very soft heart. For example, I cried when Al Franken resigned his Senate seat because I like him and I have thought of him as a fierce fighter on issues I believe in. I also cried when John McCain received his diagnosis and when some famous people passed away). Anyway, it is no big deal, but I cry easily, the great thing is, I laugh easily, too. I have a big laugh. I have a belly laugh. I have a very distinct laugh that turns heads in a room. I love laughter. I love when people laugh, and I love when I laugh. And since opening up completely about living with schizophrenia laughter is more common than ever around here.

People frequently tell me they live in the closet and are afraid of coming out because of the consequences it might have on their job, and relationships. The stigma around schizophrenia is all too real, but for me, coming out is one of the best things I have done in my life. I feel whole, and I feel free. I wouldn’t recommend being open about living with a severe mental illness with everyone, (I don’t tell everyone, but anyone can find my articles about it on the Internet). But most people who know me or have any contact with me on social media know that I have schizophrenia. I am not hiding. Are their consequences for me? Yes, I think there are. I don’t know when I apply for a job if people are discriminating against me – it is possible that they are. I don’t know if people talk behind my husband’s back and work about his “crazy” wife. I assume it can, and possibly does happen. But for the most part, people are kind, and open, accepting and compassionate toward me.

For the first time in my life, I feel free to open up a conversation about mental illness and talk about the issues, the struggles, my diagnosis, etc. I don’t feel like I am keeping more than half of my life hidden from all of the people around me. Keeping that big of a part of myself secret for so many years left me feeling distant and disconnected from other people. Now, I feel as if I am all in, and completely myself. I know not everyone has the luxury to risk what I have, and I wouldn’t want everyone too, but for me, I’ll take the increased laughter and lightness of being even if it means the occasional stab of stigma, judgment or pain.