Here’s something new. Thankfully it isn’t the Casper Slide Part 2. It is, in fact, the first ever guest post on The Adventures of an Average, White Man… and the honour frankly couldn’t have gone to anyone more fitting in the circumstances.
When I decided I wanted reader’s thoughts to feature somewhere during Mental Health Awareness Month the first blogger I knew I’d approach was summerSHINES. I’ve learned so much from her over the last couple of years and hers is an opinion I value highly in general, but more pertinently where mental health issues are concerned.
She’s been massively supportive of this blog and has grown to become a great friend. Her honesty is massively refreshing in a world where ‘faking it to make it’ has become so common. Not only has she lived through mental illness—and continues to do so—but she’s achieved an undergrad degree in Human Psychology and a masters in Work Psychology & Business. These things, coupled with her frank take on mental health, make her an inspiration to me.
Enjoy the post. I did, and I have no doubt you all will too…
I write about mental health from day-to-day. It isn’t an unusual thing for me to venture into these waters-most-murky. I don’t feel the societal stigma to any huge degree, or at least if I do, I’ve got very well accustomed to it. I’m a mental health blogger you see which means mental health is an everyday subject for me.
Mental health is my absolute fave topic for written exploration and one of my main personal themes of focus, but my motivation for that doesn’t come from having brilliant mental health myself. Far from it! The people who have the worst mental health (like me) are the ones that I think, if not immediately, eventually get so sick of wearing that metaphorical mask, that not only do we remove the mask and stomp all over it but we actively and purposefully bury the damn mask so it can never be used again.
I don’t want to spend my life wearing a mask. Why the hell would I? Masks rub and itch and irritate your face. Masks obscure your natural beauty (something we all have in some form). Masks destroy the essence of who you are, and who life has made you. We cannot expect to all be the same as we haven’t all have identikit lives. Some people live in wealth, some in deprivation. Some seem to have all the luck, while others get dealt bad hands in life time and time again. Some achieve little, some achieve lots. Some live with generally happy and harmonious relationships, while others find themselves contending with abuse and repeated disturbing intimate betrayal. Some cannot achieve the things they most want in life like financial security, work that is meaningful and satisfying, having a biological family of their own, a sense of inner peace, or whatever it is you aspire to achieve yet feel you are grossly lacking in.
Some people don’t know anything other than mask wearing. Some people believe that if we are to be accepted in society by our fellow human tribesters that we MUST only show our best bits; that we must attain perfection, and nothing else will do; that smiles are all there ever should be to life, and that there is no room for private (and especially public) tears and tantrums. But masking any aspect of ourselves requires sustained effort. It’s like how telling a fairly innocent white lie can easily snowball into telling more and more lies, which eventually can become huge life disrupting whoppers of deceit.
With masking, I am not 100% sure who it is we are trying to kid. Is it ourselves? Or others, motivated by a wish to micro manage our overall social impression managing? To be frank though, whoever the perceived benefit is for, I say FUCK ALL THAT!
There is no room for masks in my human wardrobe. Authenticity is my only way forward. Sod the masks of supposed social acceptability! Genuinely, sod them! Mental illness happens. It has most definitely happened to me; for a very loooong time. The most obvious time of descent into the destructive chaos of mental illness for me happened when I was not-so-sweet sixteen, but even before that I was never quite ‘right’. It took me from the innocent age of sixteen till the relative maturity of hitting thirty years of age before I decided maybe this ‘mask-wearing malarkey’ was not only acutely uncomfortable, but impossible.
I broke down and couldn’t help but stop pretending , just like that. There were clear and distinct reasons for me; it wasn’t just a case of a neurochemical imbalance. My neurotransmitters were doing a bloody grand job of ensuring the healthy re-uptake of my serotonin. In my case it was past trauma that unveiled itself as the cause of my ongoing emotional discomfort.
Once I identified a reason, I stopped feeling *as* guilty for not being “fine”. Up until that point I felt incredibly guilty for my non-fine-ness. I thought it was totally wrong and immensely shameful that I should be feeling distinctly un-fine when others apparently had it much worse than me. But this is where social comparison becomes a meaningless measuring stick. At the end of the day, we are NOT competing with each other, or at least we *shouldn’t* be competing to justify to ourselves and others our own psychological suffering.
Mental illness is a real and common thing. It happens to many, many people for a multitude of different reasons. So many times, I have heard people express deep guilt and shame for their illnesses, thinking their past wasn’t traumatic enough or pondering how their relative privilege or success or apparent gratitude for their gifts in life just doesn’t fit with the magnitude of their emotional pain and daily difficulty in managing the emotional challenges of living.
People just don’t grasp why they become ill, and because they don’t get it, our human egocentricity means we seek a reason within ourselves. We reason that if we cannot think of a good enough reason to feel the shitty way we do, that the fault must lie in us and our self-indulgent whiny personal weaknesses. People berate themselves for feeling the pain they do and they hide their pain from the prying eyes of others because we are all so fucking scared that when we express that deep raw pain to others that they will say rejecting words or phrases such as these typical ones: *yawn*
“Think about how others have it worse that you”
“You have so much to be grateful for!”
“Why are you letting this affect you?”
“You need to distract yourself better”
“How you feel is your choice. You must be choosing to dwell on your problems”
or “Hey man, you need to stop whinging and man up!”
Newsflash: these bullshit platitudes are spreaders of immense suffering. You may think it’s helpful and nice to say these kinds of typical phrases, but honestly, it isn’t, and you really aren’t helping the person by saying them, so please just STOP! That stuff above, that’s real genuine bonafide invalidating and hurtful/annoying shit.
These are the kind of phrases that entirely invalidate how we feel, making us feel we are WRONG for feeling what we feel, and that we are weaker, more selfish and useless and shit in comparison to the rest of the supposedly ‘strong’ population.
The hopefully helpful/reassuring news here is that the imaginary strong population that we think is there and the bullshit platitude brigade are very confident is there doesn’t exist!!! Yay!
Let that sink in for a moment…….
The hypothetical strong person who is massively grateful, ace at distracting ourselves, choosing to be happy, always aware of how others have it worse etc DOES NOT EXIST. And even if you ARE all the above, that doesn’t mean your suffering dissipates into obscurity!
Gratitude, distraction, downward comparisons and a motivation to not feed your depression is not enough to mean your illness is reversed! If it were, there would be no need for mental health services, self-help books and the pharmaceutical industry. Even with all the best protective factors in the world like loving relationships, secure employment, financial security, and a mindset of gratitude and optimism; that does not mean that you cease suffering and will forever avoid experiencing the symptoms of any given mental illness. Nope.
Absolutely ANYONE can become ill, and once you’re ill, it’s really fucking relentlessly hard to climb out of that dark place and more importantly, to stay out of it. If you have one period of clinical depression, especially at a young age, your chances of further clinically depressive episodes are statistically far higher than someone who has never experienced depression before. Even if someone becomes depressed and with the help of psychological treatment or medication (or both) improves, that does not mean you are cured forever. It means your condition is now well managed and in remission, and that you will most probably have to continue to mindfully keep on top of your emotional health by maintaining positive self-care on a longer-term basis in order to stay well.
Someone who has recovered from a bipolar episode still has bipolar disorder. The pattern of illness with this and some other mental illnesses is episodic, meaning it comes and goes. By contrast some of the other mental health conditions such as the ones I happen to be diagnosed with, (Borderline Personality Disorder & complex-PTSD), are more enduring chronic conditions that require continual managing and lead to suffering almost as an everyday way of life.
I feel ill, to some extent, all of the time, with very little let up. If you are speaking to someone with a chronic longer-term mental health condition, the bullshit platitudes are even MORE irritating! Because hope and optimism and gratitude doesn’t cure chronic illness. Sure, they are important attitudes to try and cultivate, but they are not sufficient to make your troubles float away like colourful shiny balloons on a blustery day.
I always admire people immensely who are willing to let themselves be seen by others unmasked. I know it isn’t easy, especially at first; but the good news is, once you start removing the mask for little bits of a time, maybe with selective people who you trust the most, you’ll most probably start to fall in love with the liberation of it! You’ll realise after taking the mask off how bloody uncomfortable it is when you have to put it back on again. The mask will probably itch more and more, and rub your skin dry, and you’ll long to take it off again at the earliest available opportunity.
For me, long-term therapy has been the way I’ve learned to live my life with BPD and complex-PTSD un-masked. Blogging has been the secondarily useful mechanism for removing my mask on a regular basis, with very liberating effect. These days, I live virtually mask-free. I’m not sure anyone can live entirely mask-free, as sometime we do have to fake it to make it, but I’m pretty much entirely there, unmasked. It feels good! I like that I don’t conform. I like that I’m different. I like that my values of authenticity and undiluted honesty and rawness come through loud and clear with how I choose to present myself (or rather, NOT present myself) on social media, in real life & via my blog and business.
I don’t present myself as being what I’m not. I embrace myself as I am, still recognising that I’m not yet where I want to be and accepting the total okay-ness of that awkward in-between place. The in-between place of deep uncomfortable inner growth and transformation is where life happens and unfolds. So, I’ve learned to get comfy with the in-between and the imperfect. This is life and living, unmasked. Once you experience your life unmasked I don’t think you can ever go back; not because you couldn’t; you simply wouldn’t want to.
Creating shine from the shadows