How people react to mental health discussions and why you can't let it affect you.
It is halfway through 2019, a great time to reflect on the year so far and how we can adjust for the remainder of 2019.
When I was working through my reflections, I stumbled across a plan I wrote at the start of the year.
In this document, I outlined my mental goals for the year, highlighted and underlined was the sentence; Be more open with myself and to the world about mental health and my own struggles with mental health issues.
Since then I have actively tried to achieve this goal, firstly within my own life and internal thoughts, and beyond that, 'the world'. By which I mean the people around me and through writing blogs.
The statement 'to the world' is not an act of seeking attention, but more to help the people around me understand my actions and to continue the conversation on mental health. After all, it's only through connection and communication that shame and stigma around mental health will diminish.
It's been very interesting exploring this sense of openness in my own life, but what is far more interesting to me is how others react to an honest conversation about the topic. Especially, when someone is brutally honest about their situation and empowered by stating the truth.
When I’m speaking my truth about my current and past mental health circumstances, I'm completely empowered. I feel like I'm kicking a goal or achieving a lifelong dream, and mostly, it feels the same every time. The longer I have held on to the words, the higher the endorphin kick I get when I finally, after sometimes years of silence, release the truth into the world.
It's glorious and refreshing for me to say, I'm a sexual abuse survivor and I'm discovering how to work through this. Or to mention that I suffer from anxiety daily, and I'm trying to learn how to navigate the effects on my day to day life. These acts of declaration are not overly heroic. Realistically they are just passing comments, but for me, these sentences spoken out loud are mighty victors.
These moments of triumph are quickly followed by frustration as I anticipate the reaction from the fellow human I'm engaging with, as it is generally an awkward and disappointing interaction.
And let me just clarify, the conversations I'm talking about are not random synergies, I'm not going up to complete strangers to offload verbal diarrhea about my life. That would be crazy and I would 100% expect a knee jerk reaction.
These are conversations with friends, colleagues or mentors, people I should feel comfortable with to share my vulnerability.
This is why the reaction I receive from people around me is So interesting and has uncovered some hard truths about the people I engage with.
Let me explain the two most common reactions I receive. One reaction I have named the Pity Party and the other is the Jackhammer response. Let's start with the Pity Party.
Pity Party (PP) is the weakest response to the vulnerability I have ever experienced from someone, and it is equally ostracizing and aggravating. A PP response occurs when a person on the tail end of your comment is so rooted in shame, denial, or pain themselves, they take the superior position in an attempt to distance their reality from the truth bomb you just dropped.
Rather than saying something supportive like ' wow, thanks for sharing this information, it's really empowering to hear, I experienced something similar, do you mind if I share', they treat you like a wounded deer in the forest on its last breath. Then position themselves as the superior human by acting as if this common affliction of emotional conflict never affected their lives, they just simply don't experience emotional struggles.
It often sounds something like this. "I feel so sorry for you and that you had to experience that trauma, if you need to talk or a shoulder to cry on, I'm here for you".... Bitch, we are talking about it right now, I'm empowered by my statement and I have my own shoulder to cry on, thank you very much.
A comment like the one above may seem perfectly innocent, but in reality it creates 'us and them' behavior patterns. By singling you out in the conversation and reinforcing that they are 'there for you'. They have swiftly said, you are different from them because of your honesty about your emotions and they are scared shitless about their own life situation. They can't admit the fear they are feeling, so now they have to completely distance themselves from any connection to your truth because they don't want to realize their own vulnerability.
For years I have quietly navigated through PP responses, babying the person inflicting this torture on me and back peddling my comments in an attempt to make them feel more comfortable. But I have reached a point in my life where I just say 'fuck you', there is nothing wrong with me, I'm a human experiencing human emotion. I'm not the problem here, you are, so stop making me feel like a leper.
If you are working on being more emotionally open with others and you come across the PP response, do not waste any time retracting your comments. Own your truth and let them struggle through the awkwardness, knowing this, they feel far more uncomfortable then you do. You are not the asshole, they are. Take note and then seriously question your connection to this person, it may be time to move on.
The second most common response is Jackhammer response. While not as common as the Pity Party, it is just as annoying. I call it Jackhammer as it refers to the person's reaction. I believe the response stems from the same feelings as the Pity Party, and is generally actioned by the recipient feeling uncomfortable within themselves, but their offered solution is different.
This reaction has arisen among my friends who are overachievers or perfectionists and has occurred more commonly around discussions about the passing of my father.
Rather than positioning themselves as superior in the dynamic, they drown you in a list of solutions to a problem. They jackhammer at the issue, appearing as if they are being 'supportive' through their actions.
Again the reaction seems comforting on the surface, they are helping, right?
Wrong, because they are missing one important fact. THERE IS NO PROBLEM HERE, there is nothing to solve. By offering solutions they are designating your situation as a problem and reinforcing your experience is negative, Something to be fixed, when it's not. If you are experiencing sadness in your life, that is not a problem, it's human. Do not let these assholes make you feel like an outsider because you are verbalizing your emotions.
They are the problem believing anything is wrong with you, just remember that.
So what is the point of me labeling these responses and potentially losing some friendships over this post? I'm writing this article because we all need to continue the conversation on mental health and stop treating it as a dirty word in our society. Also, to empower a younger version of myself to stop believing these bullshit responses from people when I was attempting to be open. I needed to own my truth a long time ago and I hope we all can, long before the silence has a negative impact.
Finally, take some time to reflect how you position yourself in conversations around mental health. I can write about this topic with so much conviction because I have personally played out every situation. I have been the Jackhammer, or thrown a Pity Party for someone trying to open up about their mental situation. I have given some less than desirable responses, I know how easy it is to fall into the same patterns. But remember karma's a bitch and you might be dealt with the same reality you delivered.