I know that I promised this blog post would be about my journey to recovery, but after receiving a text from a close friend, I needed to take some time to reflect – and what better way to do that than letting my feelings splurge out from the ends of my fingertips onto the screen before me in that half-nonsensical-rambling-maniac way they so often do. The text in question was not offensive, infuriating or malicious in any way. In fact it is a text I receive a lot from the people that love me. It is a text that someone in my position longs for, and yet simultaneously dreads. Simply, it read ‘How are you?’
As I send my response (some variation of ‘I’m fine’, ‘not bad’ or ‘I’m okay how are you?’) I find myself brooding over why I always say I am okay, when I’m not okay. So I decided to explore the reasons why I lie when people reach out to me with genuine concern. As a disclaimer, I just want to say – the reason I am writing this is to firstly come to terms with why I have formed this habit in the hope of breaking it and becoming more honest and open with people when I am having a bad day. Also, I’d like to give people an insight into how difficult it can be for someone suffering from a mental illness to just come out and say how they are feeling. Finally, I’d like this post to reach out to those who can relate to this situation – hopefully we can work through this together and come out of the other side saying: “I’m not okay, and that’s okay”.
Upon rigorous reflection I have concluded there are five main factors that lead me to hide my feelings from even the closest of friends. The list is as follows:
Firstly, I don’t want to be a burden. Nobody wants to be branded as a Negative Nancy who brings everyone down all of the time by talking about their problems. I want people to see me as a fun person that they want to be with rather than a pessimistic bore. I fear that by opening up to people I will make them worry about me, and that this will make them unhappy. Nobody wants to see their friend or partner or child suffer – so sometimes I bury my feelings deep, to be dug up at a more convenient time. Ultimately, I just don’t want to be that anvil in the cartoon that you see hurtling towards you with that comical whistle that you know will inevitably crush us both into the earth.
Secondly, I’m a very insecure person. My depression makes me see a very obscured vision of myself and this can be destructive to my self-esteem. I often feel such an unadulterated hatred towards myself that it obstructs my view of the compassion others show towards me. I begin to think everyone sees me in this way. I begin to think that people don’t really care how I am and that they are simply just asking to keep up with British social niceties. Of course, when I am in a better frame of mind I can see how much my friends and family care about me and I’m extremely grateful to the help and support they give me but unfortunately when I am not well this can become veiled by my own insecurities.
Thirdly, I’m a perfectionist. This is a word that has come up a lot throughout my life in meetings with various psychiatrists, therapists and mental health professionals I have seen over the years. Because of the insecurities I often struggle to present to the world the best possible version of myself I can – and funnily enough this does not include the portrait of a girl who has panic attacks in public and an ugly crying face. I think this perfectionism is a trait that thrives in this age of living life through social media accounts – by default we are programmed to deliberate obsessively over the image of ourselves we choose to show to the world. I also constantly compare myself to others and beat myself up about the fact that I am not handling things as well as I perceive others to be. When I think like this I start to see my depression and anxiety as something that makes me worthless and inferior – and I try my best to hide this.
The fourth reason is that I want to be the one to help! That’s right, it’s that trivial. I just want my friends and family to feel like they can come to me when they are down, and that they have someone to confide in without being a burden to (ironic, I know). I want to be doing things for other people and trying to make them feel better about themselves – and how exactly can I do this if I admit my life feels like the emotional equivalent of standing on a slug barefooted?
Yep, you all saw this last one coming a mile off – the final reason I say I’m okay when I’m not is because of STIGMA. Despite how hard my fellow campaigners at Time To Change and I are trying – there is still a huge sense of shame that comes with admitting that you are not okay mentally. Despite my best efforts to be more open about my mental health, the stigma that surrounds it is still a huge obstacle that I have yet to hurdle over.
So there you have it – the five reasons I lie. I hope some of you have found this useful or that it has at least helped you to gain an insight into my perspective. The final thing I want to leave this post with is some positive advice. Despite all of the insecurities I have outlined in this piece I urge you all to keep on sending those texts! Keep calling your loved ones to check they are okay, and keep on asking if they want to come round for that brew. Although people are not always guaranteed to open up to you about their problems, one thing I can guarantee is that the more you offer your support the more that person will see they are loved, cared for and they are not alone. The more you keep gently offering support and showing concern for their wellbeing the more comfortable they will feel to open up when they are ready to do so. Sometimes asking someone how they are is not just about finding out exactly what is going on in their head but it is more about letting them know that you are there for them, you care and you are not going anywhere.
Wishing you all good mental health!