For most people, on most days, calling in to work saying something like, “I’m sorry, I just can’t make it in today – I’ve been on the toilet all night!” is just not a thing they’re willing to do. But when the more honest call would sound like “I’m having a really horrible mental health day and I just can’t face humans today”, suddenly an embarrassing lie feels like a safer route. I hate to admit it, but I’ve done it before, and I know I’m not the only one. As much as everyone these days likes to pride themselves on being open-minded and aware of mental illness, the stigma is still there.
Despite all our awareness fundraisers, and Bell Let’s Talk campaigns, and celebrities opening up about their own struggles, there’s still a huge cloud of shame surrounding mental illness. God forbid we take a day off work for the sake of our mental health, or admit we need professional help. No, no. Much better to invent an awful stomach bug, and then sheepishly say you’re feeling a lot better the next day than to admit it was “just” a bad day.
Anyone who’s dealt with anxiety or depression or any kind of mental illness will know – a “bad day” can knock you fully out of commission. Just like you sometimes need a day home to rest up and feel better from a bout of the flu, some days you really, really need a sick day to give your mind a break and feel a bit better. And yet, one type of sick day is still a whole lot more “acceptable” than the other.
A few years ago, when my mental health was at a particularly low point, I made the choice to attend out-patient therapy to try and get my ish in order. Of course, this meant needing some time off work – one day a week I’d be at the treatment centre from about 9AM to 6PM. My employer at the time allowed it, but it wasn’t without a fair bit of guilt-tripping and shame. More than once I was asked something along the lines of, “So how long do you think this is going to be a thing…?”. When I’d return to work the day after therapy, I’d be asked “So how was your day off?” as if I’d enjoyed a lovely vacation day in the sun. A good friend of mine is in a very similar situation right now, and she works in the healthcare field. How absolutely ridiculous is that? So much for acceptance and understanding of the importance of mental health.
Even celebrities aren’t exempt from the shame. Just this week, Justin Beiber announced he’d be forgoing the rest of his concert tour, citing the need for a mental health break. Generally, I am not a Belieber, but in this one instance I’ll defend him. Being in the public eye all the time has to be hella stressful, and it would take a toll on anyone’s mental state. All the more power to Justin for acknowledging that, and taking a step back to rest and do what he needs to do to maintain his sanity.
And the stigma is not limited to taking time off. Admitting you need help at all can be seen as weakness. People are quick to dismiss mental illness, brushing it off as no big deal, “Cheer up, it ain’t so bad!” Or, my favorite, “You’re just being lazy; if you went outside and got some fresh air and exercise you’d feel so much better! Stop being such a mope.”
Listen. I know I say yoga fixes everything, but even that has its limits. I could yoga all day, everydamnday, and my problems wouldn’t go away 100%.
Coincidentally, my yoga journey started around the same time, maybe a few months before, as the whole mental heath/therapy/recovery thing. (Ever heard the saying “you don’t find yoga, yoga finds you”? TRUTH). Yoga helped, for sure, but even with umpteen types of group and solo therapy, it wasn’t enough. Still, it took me two years to admit that, and to get a prescription for antidepressants. Somehow, despite being surrounded by others in similar situations, and being all-too-aware of the seriousness of mental illness, I was afraid of the stigma. I didn’t want to be thought of as “unstable”, or to “take the easy way out” by taking meds.
SCREW. THAT. I’ve been on antidepressants for about two years now, and I don’t regret it for a millisecond. It’s incredible how different my life and my perspective is now. It feels like I was trapped in a bubble of sadness and anxiety for years, and now I’ve burst free. If I’d known just how much better life could (and should) feel, I would have “given in” to meds a lot sooner.
I’ll always preach the benefits of yoga, but I’ll be just as quick to defend medication and therapy and all the mental-health services we have at our disposal. It’s okay to need a little help, and I wish society acknowledged that a little more. It’s great to “spread awareness” and run campaigns, but talk is cheap. Until we actually practice what we preach, and support people when they need it, the stigma will remain.
So, yeah, just putting it out there. Take care of yourself, your brain as well as your body. Admit when you need help. Quit the judgment, of yourself and of others, and maybe, eventually, we’ll actually have a more accepting, understanding society.
The light and the love and all the weird little anxieties in me shines to the light and the love and the weird little anxieties in you. (It’s okay to admit, you’ve got ’em too). Mai pen rai. Namaste ❤