World Mental Health Day 2018 : Myth-busting about mental health

Another year, another journey. What has your mental health journey been like this year? 

It can be a funny way to look at a year, in fact I am certain that most people may not even consider it and that is great news for them. But where we as humans might look at a years events and think, that was amazing, that was sad, that was new and that is something I never want to do again; those of us susceptible to poor mental health can often see things a little differently. This year I didn’t have a depressive episode, this year I really pushed myself to visit new places, this year I made the active decision to stop medicating, this year I managed my mental health…

For me, this year I managed my mental health well, for the most part at least. It was certainly a challenging time, a new job brought a rather sizeable but not unenjoyable learning curve. A new and first home of our own tested my best self rather harshly. But those are the big things, it is in fact the little things that I am most proud of in 2018. For example I remember the time that I spoke clearly and certainly to someone who was being cruel and rude, I couldn’t tell you if their actions were intentional or not but I knew they had their own story and so I lived the mantra, ‘you can only change your own behaviour not someone else’s’. I remember the numerous times that I felt myself slipping into an anxious slump and I didn’t bury my head in the sand, but neither did I allow myself to reach the edge. I took a day here and there and came out the other side all the better for it, I was not ashamed that I needed these days when others might not have. And most importantly, this year I feel like I lived. I got up, nearly, everyday and put on my clothes, I pushed my boundaries, I explored more than just my safe spaces (even if that did mean fewer trips to Foyles), each time I felt too exhausted to go for a drink or to an exhibition I had planned to go to, I did not (most of the time) let the overwhelming urge to go home and sleep win out. Ok so I did cry at the hairdressers when I didn’t like my hair cut, I did speak rudely to the estate agent, and the electrician and probably a few other people who no matter how they behaved didn’t deserve it, I did shout at my husband for the things he hadn’t done – regardless of the countless things he had – and I definitely spent too much time obsessing and crying and hurting over situations totally out of my control. Do those things mean that I had a poor mental health year? No, they mean that I am human and that goodness that I am. 

It doesn’t matter how much I know that other people really shouldn’t have a baring on my own metal health, and I am certainly better at living the mantra to change my own reaction over concerning myself over a person’s action. But whatever I do or don’t do, we live in a world where human interaction is legion during every second of our daily lives and no matter how much we put our own actions and reactions down to the mood of yesterday now forgotten, everything we do has an effect in some way on other human beings. 

We are quite good these days at accepting that each and every person experiences life differently, and that those experiences have contributed to the person they are and no matter a persons good or bad behaviour they are the way that they are. This considered, it happens too often that people still feel the need to force other’s into conformity, be that to fit societal norms or sometimes for whatever reason, to fit a single persons expectation of how to act. More often than not, this is a result of a single person or people trying to fight for what they believe in and they genuinely believe their actions to be right and just and their beliefs to be true.  

It can be really interesting to hear or experience the perception of a person who has good mental health in contrast to those who have experience poor mental health. It doesn’t always matter how good a persons intentions are, how kind or empathetic people are or on the opposing end how impatient and closed-minded a person might be. Whatever someone’s perception and attitude, there are misconceptions out there that seem to be taken as fact when in actuality, they are probably born from a single situation or sometimes simply by judging a situation by relatively normal standards, or contrarily not judging a situation by normal standards. So here are seven things that I believe to be inaccurate assumptions or misconceptions surrounding what it means to have poor mental health. 

  1. Anxious people are less emotionally intelligent. 

This one amazes me every single time, it is actually something I have come across most recently in various forms of strangers reading things I have written. It might not surprise you to know, that the characters I write often exhibit symptoms of anxiety. More than once the characters when using coping mechanisms or reacting to a situation have been reviewed as childish, naive, silly and unrealistic. Writing you often call from experience and some of the things written I know have happened in my life or the life of others that I have encountered. Most anxious or depressed people  I know, are in fact the most emotionally intelligent people who I’ve met. When you spend so much time with your emotions bubbling under the surface and leaking into your mind, you also spend time trying to understand and decrypt them. 

  1. Anxious people need to be treated delicately. 

I am sure that this one is often stemmed from people trying their best to be supportive, however it isn’t exactly accurate and ironically, when people treat you more ‘delicately’, other people who have their own struggles often, unintentionally, give in to the need to treat you with tough love, which is in fact just as unhelpful. That lesson we learnt as a child, to treat each and every person that we meet with respect if not kindness, and essentially as we would wish to be treated still stands strong. Don’t protect me, let me fight my own battles, don’t battle me because you think I need to be schooled in real life struggles. 

  1. Anxious people aren’t brave.

Another one that is shocking to me, but something I only understand differently and adversely because of people making this assumption about me. A few years ago I had my first severe bout of depression and low mood, some days I couldn’t even get out of bed for the crushing anxiety of the outside world. But, not content to let this go on, I went travelling, alone. And people kept saying to me ‘Oh you are so brave’. Well, yes, yes I am, thank you. But not because I have anxiety and went travelling, because I actively make the decision every single day to get out of bed, put my clothes on and face the world. Because everyone, those with good mental health and those with poor, underestimates how brave a thing it is just to live.  

  1. Anxious people are agoraphobic. 

I have already mentioned that during dark days leaving my bed was impossible, and whilst some people do suffer with agoraphobia and have anxiety, having anxiety does not mean you are agoraphobic. Every single person on the planet has a day every now and then when you just don’t want to leave the house, you need alone time to preserve your sanity because, remember, living is bloody hard work. Having these days doesn’t mean you have anxiety either, it means you are human. When you are anxious your brain and your body might flare up with the effects, to the point when you are unable to leave your safe space. 

  1. Anxious people are introverts.

This one applies both ways, anxious people are shy and overt people could never be anxious, right? It is a pretty big cliché actually, if someone is shy there are probably a whole host of reasons and having anxiety is possibly irrelevant. People with both good and poor mental health can exhibit varying degrees of privacy or wear their heart on their sleeve in equal amounts. I am not shy and retiring, I am confident and I do have strong opinions about things. That doesn’t mean I don’t then go home and obsess for hours over what I said, how I said it, how I look, how people think of me to the point of tears of frustration and sometimes even self loathing. Just because I tell you everything about me unashamedly, doesn’t mean that I don’t in fact experience shame or fear at having shared those things in the first place. 

  1. Anxious people just can’t cope with every day anxiety. 

This is probably the most well-known misconception, the idea that having an anxiety disorder is simply some people not coping with the anxiety we all face. ‘We all have anxiety, you just have to learn to cope’. Thanks, but no. I mean don’t get me wrong, I wish you were right and that it might  simply be a case of learning to cope like the rest of the population. I have spent time learning techniques, adjusting the way I instinctively react and retraining my brain which is in effect learning to cope better, but learning to cope isn’t something I haven’t tried before. Any anxiety disorder can be linked scientifically back to the chemical processes of the brain, just as with depression, and on top of that those chemical processes become second nature and the reaction instinctual so if it helps you to understand better, imagine learning to hold your breath underwater for the first time…it is something lots of people learn but it is hardly easy. 

  1. Anxious people wallow in self-pity/attention seek. 

I have fallen foul to this one many a time, usually whilst within the depths of my own struggles. I feel resentful and angry that someone openly talks about their struggles and gets attention (support) for doing so. I have also judged another for, what I have at the time considered, showing self-pitying behaviour and wallowing instead of standing up and fighting the grips of anxiety. So I totally relate to people who think badly of anxious people, because even having experienced both sides of this I still do it too…and then I have a very stern word with myself. Being open about poor mental health is massively important, both for the acceptance of the person struggling to start along the path of healing, and also for the acceptance of the rest of the world. Sometimes in order to have the mental strength to carry on, we might need to have a moment or a day to build the strength and that is not self-pity, that is self-preservation in action. 

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