Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s a controversial (ish) post which I’ve been wanting to put together for a while, and haven’t because of various reasons.
So first, a disclaimer and a warning. This post isn’t about mental health. Or rather it is, but it’s going to be more overarching than some people might see that term to mean, and probably will cover less about mental health than many people might feel it should. Here’s the thing though, I’m not an expert in this, it’s just a perspective of a single person. If you think I’m wrong then by all means tell me, but tell me bearing the above in mind.
Now then. Recently, I feel like I’ve seen a lot of this about:
Or seen articles like this one listing “31 secrets of people living with anxiety”. These things are great, because they are removing the stigma around mental health issues, and allowing people to feel like they can talk about themselves frankly and learn to access the help they need.
They are trivialising and normalising a serious illness. These things are popping up more and more often, and I don’t speculate about the mental state of people who are posting them, but I do think it’s likely that at least a few of them just had a bad day. I think that alongside the very positive culture of talking, sharing, and helping, there’s another culture emerging – a culture of hiding behind the barrier of poor mental health.
Your well-being, physical, mental and emotional, is important. Never doubt that. It’s also important to know yourself, and somewhere along the path of lets-talk-about-mental-illness we’ve fallen into the trap of not talking about not-mental-illness-just-how-you-cope-with-bad-stuff. That’s a complicated thing, because really, teaching mental fortitude is tough. However, it is vital, and here’s why.
Sometimes, people have bad days and get sad. Sometimes, people get sad for no real reason at all, or for reasons they can’t define. A certain proportion of the time, those people have a medical condition which they can’t break free from, but often, people are just sad. And that’s fine. We don’t give ourselves room to be sad any more, because if you’re sad for no reason, current society is saying that there’s something wrong with you, and that’s a something which can’t be fixed just by “trying harder to be happy”. Which entirely holds true for depression, but really doesn’t for sadness. We cure it by seeking the acceptance of our sadness in others, maybe by sharing the kind of things I mentioned above – by looking for an acknowledgement that the sadness is normal, and therefore ok.
But the thing is, depression isn’t normal. And it’s not ok. Which is not to say that it’s unacceptable, or weird, or whatever. But it is an illness, and it’s not the same as just being a bit down. When you’re a bit down, it is fine, and right, to try and make yourself happy, rather than wallowing in your sadness. A lot of the time, taking a moment to make a cup of tea, count your blessings, and listen to a bit of your favourite music (or whatever your thing is) does help. There’s a comic which goes round from time to time which is a great explanation of why telling people with depression to just “try harder” is crazy. I’ve reworked it (you’re welcome) to illustrate my point.
So I suppose what I’m saying is, we need to talk about mental health, but we also need to recognise that for many people, mental well-being is fully within our grasp. We shouldn’t deny ourselves the right to be happy, just because we’re too busy convincing ourselves that we’re depressed, and therefore can’t work our way towards happiness. And we shouldn’t deny ourselves the right to be sad, and the ability to feel sadness while fully believing that happy days will come again.
Because, you know. They will.