The fact that my psychiatrist thought I was ‘normal’ enough to just see a regular family physician and the insurance company thinks I’m mentally healthy enough to return to ‘any occupation’ by mid-July has got me thinking… What if being a zombie who experiences panic attacks is the social norm? Is it possible that being happy is abnormal and being unhappy, angst- ridden and ghost-like is the norm? I mean, why else would my mental health professional and my insurance company be so anxious to get rid of me?
Maybe all those years of happiness, punctuated with some downs too, was an abnormal way of life. Maybe that’s why I never quite fit in. Maybe that’s why people thought I was strange. Laughing until I cried, being proud of my accomplishments, sharing adventures with my family and friends, and just having fun… Maybe these things are not normal for most. Maybe the overwhelming, heart-swelling joy I experienced was more proof that I was ‘wrong’ somehow.
Think about it. Maybe I’m right. Maybe misery is the norm, but we don’t necessarily see it because ‘successful’ people don’t share their miseries, only their successes. (That's what makes them 'successful', don't you know???)
Realistically, we don’t understand other people’s emotions. We only see what people choose to share with us; what’s socially appropriate. Most people present only positive emotions in public – at coffee-time, on Facebook, while shopping etc. We don’t see or hear all those things that make people feel bad – the negative emotions. Of course, when we compare ourselves to these images, we come up short. No one can always be that perfect. That happy. All. The. Time.Why do people present more positive than negative? Easy. They want to appear to be ‘winners’, in control and successful in life. No one wants to be the ‘loser.’
People, obviously me included, tend to consciously or unconsciously supress their negative emotions for fear of being ‘different’. Presenting a positive public face is a form of self-preservation. It's a way of 'keeping up with the Jones'" If you’re sad or frustrated and in any way ‘imperfect’, you’re showing signs of weakness – at work, at home, or in with friends. And, if you’re not perfect, well there’s something wrong with you. You’re not fitting in with what you think society expects you to be. Unfortunately, this means that wherever you go or whatever you do, you’re wearing a mask and not revealing your true self – just the shell, the superficial outside. (Sadly, there are those who are perfectly content with knowing your superficial self... Try to minimize those types of people in your life... Too many can be toxic).Social media – such as Facebook or Twitter – perpetuates this mythology. Generally when posting, or ‘liking’, people want to present themselves in the best possible light. We tend to avoid people who consistently make negative comments in their Facebook posts, leaning towards the positive. Of course, when you’re reading only good things or see people sharing experiences that you want in your life, you might think ‘good for them’, but inevitably, you end up wondering why your life can’t be like that – why your life is coming up short…
When skimming through Facebook, we tend to forget that everyone has their own journey. Everyone has their trials and tribulations. Did you ever think that maybe what you see is an illusion, a façade? Your friend may have got the dream job. But you don't see the hours of hard work, heartbreak and sacrifice that made it happen. Yes, that frenemy might be on vacation somewhere exotic, but you don’t know if she is fighting with her husband all along. What about the couple with the beautiful home? Maybe the wife is addicted to gambling, and they are in danger of losing that home. What about the parent of kids who seemingly can do no wrong? Maybe the there is more to that too. All you see is the good. You don’t necessarily see or know the background into these so called perfect lives.The casualties of this social Darwinism, or survival of those most socially adept, are people like me. People who know how to present the façade so well that people don’t even notice there is something wrong. These are the people who desperately need help, but don’t have the strength or courage to ask for it, for fear of being narcissistic (too many folks like that on the internet, sigh) or judged harshly. (That’s one of the reasons I’m kinda like Gossip Girl: “Who am I? I’ll never tell.”). If we ask for help, we live with the worry that we’ll become social pariah.
In my case, I’ve told a few friends about my situation. Thankfully, most of them have been extremely supportive. Some of the people I haven’t told might understand, but I fear the majority will not. Actually, I know the majority will not. I will be forever labeled as ‘depressed Mom’ and unable to escape the stigma of mental illness.
I wish I could be one of those people who feel comfortable enough in my own skin to share my issues more often – both in person and on-line. Let’s face it. If I had cancer or was in a car accident, I wouldn’t be as reluctant to share. Okay. I probably wouldn’t want to share that either, but I would be less frightened about what people would say and how they’d react. Less afraid of being ostracised. Illness or accident are more socially accepted than mental health issues.I generally don’t ask for help. I think that’s partially why I’m where I am. My mask is so thick, that I don’t even connect with myself. Perhaps that’s why I’m a zombie with no positive emotions. Ever.
My mask – my social persona – has formed my outward reality, while my insides are dead. Form without function.
The solution? Allow yourself to be different. Allow yourself to share things that make you happy and sad. Be true to yourself – both on the outside and the inside.
I wish I did that more often. Maybe then, I wouldn’t be stuck in this world of darkness unable to escape.