One of the most common remarks I hear when talking about mental health is, “you don’t look like you have social anxiety.” Or, “but you’re always so happy.” It’s not something I take offence to, because it’s meant with curiosity and I suppose in some ways, a compliment. “Oh wow, you don’t seem crazy at all!”I think they expect me to be rocking in a corner somewhere, clutching a bottle of vodka. (Which, for the record I would never do… because I hate vodka, and besides if I was clutching anything it’d be Rigby and a bottle of champagne).
However, it also highlights a genuine problem – MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS. Or rather the lack of it.
At some point in life most people are likely to experience a mental or emotional issue. Yet, unlike a physical condition, it’s harder to spot. (If you came into work with blood pouring out of your nose, or a casserole tin on your head, people will notice and offer assistance.) Furthermore, long-term sufferers become very good at hiding their issues. I was a high functioning anxiety case for years, it just became something that I carried with me, the tiger with its claws in my back. I may have been smiling and ‘happy,’ but that didn’t mean there wasn’t fear in my eyes, or pain behind me smile.
It was a communication issue, I didn’t feel as though I could be honest about how I was feeling.
Ignorance isn’t a crime and although it’s difficult not to get frustrated when someone makes a sweeping statement, I find that taking the time to explain how anxiety effects me is more beneficial. I prefer friendly discussion, rather than to
punch them in the face start a confrontation.
- Stay calm. Don’t assume that they mean offence. Sometimes we (people in general), say things without thinking.
- Be honest. If someone says “You seem so happy,” I normally reply, “well as with any condition I have good days and bad days. I am happy, but there are times when I struggle too.”
- Make physical comparisons. E.g. “Anxiety is like a headache. Nobody would know you’re in pain unless you tell them.” Examples make things easier to understand.
- Use humour. E.g. “I suppose it’d be more obvious if I had steam coming out of my ears!” This will help to diffuse any awkwardness, but also politely make it clear that their remark is silly.
If the person continues to make statements that you feel are inappropriate, then you’re well within your rights to call them out.
I’m hopeful that one-day mental health awareness will become universal. But for now, we have to breathe, smile and educate.
Time to Change have a useful Myths/facts section on their website that I encourage people to read.