In many parts of our lives we have this strange inclination to have the most. The most money, the most clothes, sure. But also–and here it gets even stranger– the most awkward encounter with a professor, or the most awful roommate. Well we may or may not want to have it, but we want to claim it. We have this inclination to one up each other even in sadness. Someone close to me recently coined this as being “one-downing”.
I think we excuse this by saying we are trying to relate to each other but it is a genuinely strange phenomenon.
The one place where I would say this is not the case is Mental Health. (Yes, I capitalized it. It’s a Big Deal.) When suffering with mental health issues one often feels the need to minimize their illness. This can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe we are all just trying to fake-it-’til-we-make-it. I feel that a lot of it is down to the stigma associated with mental health issues. It is 2016 and people are still saying things like “Just cheer up!” and “It’s not a big deal.” And “It’s all in your head.” To quote Albus Dumbledore “Of course it is happening inside your head, …but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
A bad time at work is horrible, but at some point you leave work and go home. You can take yourself out of the environment. When you are having a bad time “in your head” you can’t escape. Whether you are in class, or on stage, or in the car, or in bed, everything is there. It weighs you down. No matter where you go you don’t have a moment to stop and catch your breath from being mentally ill. Everyone says to avoid toxic relationships, but what if that toxic relationship is with yourself?The other sticky bit is that mental health issues can be a silent illness. You see most people in public arenas where they have covered up their struggle to fit in. A broken leg is obvious. Depression is not. Nor are anxiety, dementia, schizophrenia, panic disorders, attention disorders, PTSD, eating disorders, and so many more. In some cases we might be able to see symptoms but can’t tell someone’s mental health from looking at them. We can’t see what is happening inside someone’s head. I urge you to think about that. Instead of using that lack of clarity to delegitimize the struggles of so many, use it as a lens to see the world. Remember that you can’t see the whole story so, accordingly, treat people with kindness.
If someone trusts you enough to talk to you about their struggles please give them the love and support they need. If you see a friend slipping away, try to interact with them in a way they feel comfortable.
If you are struggling with your mental health please know that you are not alone. What you are experiencing is real and valid. You do not need to feel ashamed. Take on the world in a way that is manageable for you.
I know that I have more to say on this subject but I feel that this much is an important thing to say in and of itself. Remember that we are all fighting our own battles so be kind to others and more importantly, be kind to yourself.