Sometimes life smacks you in the face. Yep, I getting right down to it. I had such an experience recently and I feel it necessary to share it with you because we’re in this mental health struggle together; whether you’re personally going through it, are supporting someone who is or are simply an ally, this is for you. I also think this is for you if you happen to be the kind of person who needs to be reminded that language can be truly hurtful and harmful. I’m here to do the reverse. I’m here to speak my truth hopefully in language that will open eyes and encourage others.
I recently experienced injustice and prejudice with regard to my mental health struggles. I’m not a stranger to hurtful comments but this one hit particularly profoundly. Why? Because it came from an unexpected source. A source that was, until a short time ago, someone I believed to be supportive, understanding and transparent. Instead, an entirely different attitude was revealed; one of judgment, disrespect and discrimination.
I was insulted on a deeply personal level due to having been reduced to a stereotype while also being criticized for experiencing my illness. I was wrongfully blamed for certain things which were deemed a direct result of my mental illness / an alleged behavioural problem. The cherry on top was a statement that also happens to be illegal not to mention the definition of discrimination. My fiancé and I were told that we would have been denied a certain contractual agreement had I informed them of my mental health struggles at the beginning.
To make matters worse, it’s pretty clear that this person has blended an allegedly open-minded outlook with outright indignity and cannot or will not see the contradiction in their words and behaviours. I don’t think sound reasoning will ever impact this persons’ mindset.
That last statement is the perfect lead-in for my main point and objective with this post. Much as we would like to change other people’s views, especially when they’re so derogatory, unfair and insensitive, this is not a factor within our control. Consequently, focussing on our lack of power in this respect only causes internal sickness in ourselves. We self-victimize and hence give others power over us. Allow me to let you in on a secret that took me a LONG time to discover. Such people are not worth making ourselves ill over.
You may be wondering how to do this and that’s quite understandable. The truth is that it isn’t easy. I’m the first one to admit that I’m extremely sensitive and internalize every piece of negative feedback. Doing so has eaten away at my confidence and self-respect for years. I get very emotional and that can cloud my judgment.
Bearing that in mind, I’m unbelievable happy to share this piece of personal growth with you. What seems initially astounding is that I’m actually grateful for this experience. Let me explain.
My first reaction to this situation was one of extreme emotion. I was confused, sad, angry, frustrated, insulted and disgusted. I was literally shaking. However I used time as my ally to remain clear-headed. After all, one of us in this event had to be! (Yes, the one with ‘mental illness’. Imagine that for irony!) If this had happened 2 years ago, I would have surely hurt myself at the very least. I would have been overcome with guilt, shame and self-blame. A huge indication of my progress was that this time…I was angry. Anger isn’t a very socially accepted emotion; something that actually gets us in trouble because we’re designed for ‘fight or flight’. In today’s society we can neither run away nor express our ‘fight’ instinct. The result? A poison that builds up inside causing a whole host of mental and physical problems.
I discovered that ‘flight’ was not for me and that my ‘fight’ instinct could be positively directed. One could say that I healthily embraced my anger. Why is this tremendous progress? Because instead of blaming myself I actually REALIZED that I was done an injustice. Unlike for many years, my self-worth and self-respect is high enough to see that this isn’t my fault. Taking responsibility for our actions in life is very important but just as significant is knowing what we are NOT responsible for.
Long-story short, I did what is perhaps the only thing one CAN do in such a frustrating situation. I protected myself all while maintaining the relationship and clearing up much of the related issues as possible. This person and I may never see eye-to-eye regarding the mental health topic, but really…that’s life. I just have to remind myself that ignorance abounds and my sole responsibility is to stay true to myself and to you, by sharing my truth.
The next time something like this happens to you, I recommend that you pause and reflect. Take the time to sort out your emotions and filter what is and isn’t your responsibility. The last thing we want to do…or at least the last thing I want to do, is prove this person right in their convoluted beliefs.
Stay strong, stay calm and above all, stay true!