One lie that I expect we’ve all told at least once in our lives is, “I’m fine,” when we’re not.
It’s an understandable lie to tell because we’ve gotten this far as a species by attacking displays of vulnerability. Or that’s what I’m afraid of whenever I lie about being fine. I’m afraid of my tribe voting me off the island and leaving me to be eaten by the Baba Yaga.
We figured out a while ago, though, that helping people out ends up being a better aid to the collective. Logic can help us be more caring sometimes. Logically, if we help an injured person, then society as a whole benefit. Most of us understand that now.
The trouble is with ephemeral symptoms. If someone is bleeding or fainting, we know what to do. I know that if I’m bleeding, I’m almost relieved because I know that people will respond to the evidence of my pain.
It gets more difficult when the “pain” I experience comes as something more obscure. Psychological pain and emotional pain has been stigmatized as a weakness. Artists are plagued by it, but they’re not contributing members of society. They’re just polyps on the face of civilization. Artists must be tolerated. Normal people should not aspire to be in any way similar to artists. Obviously, artists can’t cope. That seems to be the stigma attached to mental pain. You can tell by the language used. The words for mental pain are words like malaise, ennui, and melancholy. They sound artsy and distant and belonging to some bougie class of citizens.
But normal people can cope. That’s the basic view, it seems. Normal, contributing members of society can just muscle through their mental health issues. We published a blog recently on Laughing in the Face of Anxiety, and after having known our beautiful founder for quite some time: the very best trailblazers do this best of all, among many ways of coping.
However, I digress ever so slightly, the other kind of person who can’t cope with mental issues is someone who’s sick.
That’s the other stigma: that mental trauma means being a broken person.As a normal person, if I feel some kind of psychological distress, I will almost always say that I am fine. I say so not because I am, but because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of the conversation. I’m afraid of being either cast out of the tribe, or afraid that people will decide I’m broken.
I understand the lie. I do. I understand the defensive reflex to make secrets of emotional trauma.
When the fact of it is that probably more of us are dealing with some injury to our psyche. There are probably more people who have some kind of psychological trauma than people who don’t.
The reason for this is pretty basic: we’ve haven’t made a world that’s very well-equipped for taking care of mental health issues. We’re more used to ignoring or avoiding mental health issues than making them into normal things that people can talk about without being afraid.
This means that you—everyday you!—can be a superhero in this conversation.
There’s a two-step process you can take, right now, that will help the entire world cope with mental health better.
Ready? It’s easy.
Admit to yourself that you’ve probably got mental health issues of some kind. Maybe they’re minor. Maybe they aren’t. The point is, if you have some, odds are most of the people you meet do too. So…
Decide right now that you will do your level best to be receptive to conversations about mental health. When the people in your life need to bring up their issues, remember that you'll need to talk about yours someday.
If we can make conversations about mental health normal that would make our world a lot more comfortable. Mental health should be as easy to talk about as heartburn. It would be more comfortable for everyone with mental health issues, which, we’ve just established, probably includes you.