Before I start, I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor and I am not going to attempt to create new definitions. I am writing as a person of words.
“I am so stressed at work”
”I am obsessed with this pattern”
”this is giving me total anxiety”
We all use expressions like this, every day. We mean “I am busy” “I like this pattern” “it is sad” “it makes me feel nervous or uneasy”. We could say that, and we do, but we use these other ones too. Language moves and evolves, these words are useful.
“He has mental health”
I’ve heard this too, to say that someone has had difficult mental health experiences.
I believe we do need to use these words. We can’t be afraid of them. We can’t be afraid to use them. We need to talk about our mental health experiences. We need to practice using the words, reach for them. However, if we use these words lightly, reach for them too often, might they lose the meaning we require of them?
When someone says to me “There’s so much stress at work”, I am usually given to understand that they are busy, and perhaps that the systems in that place of work are under duress, that it is a struggle to keep up. I understand that this situation can become increasingly difficult and lead to stress in the clinical sense. Often the person saying “I am stressed” is in fact overwhelmed or on the edge thereof. Stress, when the panic attacks, the sleep problems, the headaches and fatigue kick in, could be round the corner. It is not a situation to take lightly. Speaking about it helps. For me, it helps me sort my mind, my course of action - I speak as a valve and a prioritising tool.
Stress might not come from work. Maybe sleep issues, caring pressures, a traumatic event - the cause of it may seem innocuous to someone else, but it is no less a significant mental health experience for someone to have to go through. “I am so stressed at work” while not a clinical diagnosis, can be an early indicator that a fracture of some sort is coming.
”I am depressed” - I have experienced depression. My experience was almost that of being in an emotional fishbowl. I was not “sad”. I felt completely disconnected from everyone. I did not feel SAD. True, I cried a lot. I could not stop it. My body expressed sadness. I felt that I was not worthy of the love and connection. In my mind was not sadness, it was disconnection. It was a broken emotional dashboard. However, often when I have felt sad for several days, I have become fearful that the depression was returning. For me, sadness is an indicator that my emotional dashboard is working correctly. So I have re-taught myself to understand that I can be sad. Sad is ok. Sad, for me, is feeling. I’m working on allowing myself anger.
I have never experienced obsession. I have used the words “OMG I am obsessed with these colours“ or some such. I know what I am saying. I am communicating effectively as the person I am speaking to understands what I mean. Likewise with the use of ”anxious”. We all use words that relate to mental health experiences every day. Language evolves to suit the communication needs. However, if we are to truly talk about our mental health experiences, we need to open up the conversations. We need to listen - we all have mental health just as we all have physical health. We all have differing mental health experiences.
We must talk and we must listen.
However, as friends and family we must know we are not the experts who can help with more severe mental health experiences. Just as I might sympathise with one friend about an ache or physical symptom, another might say something which would compel me to say “you should go to the GP & get that checked out”, I try to be equally as mindful when a friend comes to me to say that they are stressed, anxious, obsessed, depressed. I try to listen well, with kindness. If I think my friend needs it, I say so. There is expert help out there - I can help someone to find it, it is not for me to try to provide it.
I have been re-learning for myself that it’s ok to be sad, to be overwhelmed, tired, to be busy, and that it’s ok to take a break, to step back, to say no. To ration out my time & my energy if I need to - and to speak openly about this too! We need to speak of our own mental health experience, how we maintain our Mental Health, just as we nourish our bodies & keep ourselves healthy, and we need to speak of mental & physical resources to ensure we stay well.
Mental & physical health need to be looked after, but injury, illness, circumstances happen - I believe we can all help someone going through a difficult experience one way or another.
What do you think? I’d love to know!