The first thing most people get asked when they meet someone new or that they haven’t seen for a while is generally “What do you do for work?” “What have you been doing with yourself?” Now I know these are just polite pleasantries that people feel obliged to say but the implications of WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR LIFE is the general undertone.
Unfortunately, a lot of people on the end of that loaded question, myself included, don’t have a response. Well, not one that is socially acceptable to say. When it comes to mental health the strides you make and accomplishments you reach are hidden. A recovering drug/alcohol addict has a story to tell, depending on how comfortable they are with the person they are talking with a response like “Well I’m six months sober” is commendable and usually met with a reply like “Well done!” or “Good on you! What a milestone”. That’s amazing by any standards 20/30 years ago society wouldn’t have looked at those people as having accomplished anything, they would’ve been judged for how they let their life get to that point. But slowly people started learning that acceptance and acknowledgement do far more for an addict then shame and condemnation ever did. Anyone coping with or recovering from a mental illness doesn’t yet have the same voice. To recover is by definition ‘a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength’. It’s like mental health and society have this unspoken agreement; we know you’re there but let’s not bring everyone down by taking about it in everyday life okay? Deal. Society is this big, perfect expectation machine that says we only want to hear about what’s acceptable. What kind of car have you bought lately, what neighborhood do you live in or what sort of job do you have? These are all acceptable. So many out there spend their lives battling an internal war that no-one will ever know about.
In a perfect world where I ran into someone I haven’t seen for a while, that isn’t one of the few that I confide in about my anxiety and depression, I would like the conversation to go something like this.
“Hi! It’s been a long time what have you been up to?”
“Well it’s been a struggle but I can actually leave the house most days without being afraid”
“I’m proud to say it’s been 3 years since I last considered taking my own life.”
The last one is probably a sensitive subject due to its morbidity but it’s true! And if it wasn’t for the amazing people I have in my life that support me on a daily basis and remind me how far I’ve come I would never truly appreciate what I have achieved. I would see myself the way society does, as a jobless no-hoper that’s nearly ten years out of school with little to show for it.
My mother has always been an advocate for the misunderstood she is one of the most open minded, unconventional people I have ever met and she has always instilled in me that it’s not what you have that matters it’s how you live your life that is a true measure of your success. Compassion, empathy and understanding are all traits that we should impart on those we meet. Indigenous people in our communities are constantly judged for how little they have in comparison to society’s expectations but one of the most profound things I have learned from the Aboriginal culture is their ‘polite pleasantries’ don’t ask what do you have? They ask, where are you from? What part of the country are you from, who is your family? It’s about culture and where you come from not where you’re going. So when I’m feeling down about where my life is headed I take a moment and try to reflect on where I come from. What I have rather than what I want, or expect.
At the end of the day success will always measured by your accomplishments, but every person should hold their head high if they live their life loving and accepting others because that itself is not something everyone looks to have. Which is sad because self-worth shouldn’t be a price tag, it’s like a book a journey, not a competition. I don’t expect a medal or a round of applause for getting out of bed each day, because I know that I am not the only person that deals with mental illness. But just the freedom to be able to talk about what I have been through without pity, judgement or doubt one day is something I look forward to.