“It’s ok not to be ok”
This is the headline that is often used to break the stigma of mental health. It’s a simple and powerful statement, however for those who do have mental health issues (of which there are 200+ known diagnosed conditions) we know there are many complex layers that sit within this.
Whilst it’s encouraging to see the various campaigns breaking the stigma and raising awareness about mental health – at the same time we need awareness that if we are asking someone to open up and talk, we may want to give ourselves a check in to see if we have the mental capacity to deal with what someone may tell us. How we respond to someone opening up to us can either help or actually harm (unintentionally) their wellbeing. We are asking people to potentially disclose information they haven’t even told their family, friends or even their employer for fear of being judged. Maybe that person is having therapy, or they are in so much pain they are unable to acknowledge what’s going on. They may have buried their emotions to the depths of hell because that’s where they want it to stay… because at times we do feel like we are in emotional hell.
Opening up and talking about how we’re really feeling can be frightening.
We are revealing a part of our true selves. We’re being asked to drop the mask. You are asking us to put down our armour and allow ourselves to be raw and vulnerable. When this has happened to me, on the days when I am not consumed by anxiety and I am able to have rational thoughts, I will have various questions running through my head when someone asks me…
“How are you doing?”
- Do I lie and say “I’m fine”
- Can I be honest?
- How well do I know this person?
- Can I trust this person?
- Will they be able to cope with what I’m saying?
- Do I know if they have experienced the same thing?
- Will they use this information against me in the future?
- Will they judge me?
- Is this going to affect our friendship / work relationship / relationship?
- Do I feel safe with this person?
- Can they help me?
- Will I frighten them or freak them out?
- Do they possibly have a mental health issue?
- Will my comments trigger them in some way?
Those are some of the questions I have – tick where applicable. Trust me when I say there are more.
Because of what I have gone through, I will always have my armour on.
No matter how much self development work I do, hours of meditation, mindfulness or therapy sessions I have, I keep my armour on because it is essential to my wellbeing. I do it not just to protect myself, but also because at times I may want to protect others from hearing my true thoughts, some of them are really dark and scare me. Can I share them with someone else? I think everyone wears some form of armour. We have to. However we need to be aware that because of this we are at times too guarded and our defence mechanisms can be triggered too easily. Some people are so hurt they are literally firing arrows at people who are actually trying to help them. Do we run away or do we stand there and let them project onto us? Let me grab my shield, I’ll stay if I can but I also don’t want to be your regular verbal punching bag.
In Buddhism we are taught the way we see others is because they are mirrors of ourselves. I also believe that our perception and ability to process what people are saying is limited and also guided by our own experiences and understanding. We have unconscious biases that influence our opinions and decisions. The miscommunication that can arise from this can have some serious consequences. It doesn’t matter how spiritually enlightened or how tough we may think we are, we all have our vulnerabilities and need to protect ourselves. That’s survival.
I know that if I am asking someone to open up their Pandora’s Box, I do need to mentally prepare myself and be fully present for them and not let my experiences or opinions get in the way, and this is something others need to consider. If you can’t handle what you are hearing, can you imagine trying to live through it?
We meet many people on our journey through life. I am blessed to have a tribe who get me and vice versa, but there are plenty who haven’t and so for that reason, over the years it’s another layer of armour that I have developed.
It’s ok not to be ok.
We also need to have hope and faith that one day we will be.