As a current inhabitant of planet Earth, I can assure you that there is plenty to be anxious about… even if we don’t listen to the news or follow it on social media. Right now, apart from all of the usual stuff, I would say that there are three specific sources of notable anxiety in my life… and everyone I know is experiencing anxiety on a regular basis. So, it would probably be fair to say that life itself is naturally anxiety-inducing – for all of us.
However, it appears that some human souls don’t understand this. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear someone ‘confess’ that they suffer from anxiety – as if it is a condition that only some people are afflicted by. And there is a popular myth doing the rounds on social media that the subject of poor mental health is one that is ignored by the masses and swept under the carpet. And yet you still find that the news feed carries one post after another reminding the world that it should be more mindful of… other people’s poor mental health. The posts I particularly object to are the ones that are intended to bully or guilt you into reposting, as in “I think I know which of my friends care enough/are brave enough to repost this.” Maybe so – but do you know which of your ‘friends’ are immediately reaching for the mute button?
Don’t misunderstand me. I know how crushing anxiety can be. I have, like billions of others I imagine, known exactly what it feels like to not want to wake up the following day. Not to want to die… just not be conscious and aware and expected to function. I have lived with smothering stress. I have used alcohol to numb the pain. I have been joyless and without hope… and I feel for anyone who has experienced the same. However, the fact of the matter is, it is normal. We’re all going to go through our own s**t, and probably many times throughout our lives. And we’ll notice that it tends to come in chunks, almost knocking us off our feet for a while. Somehow, though, we keep going, continuing to interact with the world around us and doing what needs to be done. And then the path starts to level out again – at least, that is, until we come to the next bump in the road. I am not being negative, it is just the way that life is. It is often wonderful, but it is still a bitter-sweet journey. I accept that. I don’t like it and I wish it could be another way… but I accept it.
And don’t think that I am saying that no-one should talk about their feelings; we all need someone to pour our heart out to, someone to reassure us that we are not alone during our darkest moments. And we may need to lean on that someone for a while, whilst we regain momentum. However, what is currently going on in the world has gone way beyond that – and not in a good way. Celebrities appear to be queuing up to tell their stories about childhood struggles, depression, and addiction – claiming to feel duty-bound to reveal the truth to their fans. Why? We all know by now that the ‘famous’ are as human as the rest of us – it isn’t exactly headline news. But why aren’t they as keen to talk about happy childhood memories, and about how they became successful in the first place? And if they don’t have many cheerful memories to share, why not keep that to themselves and simply focus on the present and the future? Why not be a strong and positive role model, rather than another victim for us all to relate to? You might argue that they are trying to assure others that they too have suffered… that they too have been unhappy and fearful. But is that what the world really needs right now? Is it possible that they are doing more harm than good? Having said that, it does tend to be C and D list celebs who are the most keen to talk about this stuff, so maybe their motivation isn’t always completely altruistic.
I am happy to share my stories if they are likely to be useful, or when I need to show that I am not preaching from an ivory tower. However, I don’t want to bond over mutual tales of misery, or compete for the title of most put-upon human being in the world. And I don’t want to have to battle through endless yes-buts. On the other hand, I have been in awe of the courage of individuals who have experienced the kind of horrors that the rest of us can’t even begin to imagine (and don’t want to think about). I have also been struck by their lack of desire to share those experiences with everyone they meet. I don’t believe that everyone should keep their hard luck tales to themselves; I just don’t know how we got into the place in which no-one is anyone unless they have ‘issues’ – which need to be aired at every opportunity, as well as being used as a source of validation and a wall of defence. We are talking too much about it now, and it is harming us. My daughter recently reminded me of how she and her sister begged me to stop asking people I bumped into whilst out shopping how they were – because they always insisted on telling me… in detail! We laughed about it, but then I recalled the time I popped into our local shop for something small – only to emerge an hour later. A woman I hadn’t seen for some time gave me the run-down on every awful thing that had occurred in her life during the previous two years, when asked the obligatory “how are you?”, and I realised why they’d become so frustrated with me. They were either hanging around waiting for me to end conversations and get on with the shopping, or sitting at home wondering where the hell I was with the milk and tea bags!
I’m not heartless, and I do sympathise with those who have been facing hardship. And I know, first-hand, what deep, dark depression and addiction looks like, and how hard it is to be the partner, supporter, or carer of the sufferer. So much is required of you and it is often a thankless task. It would be so easy to become the sufferer yourself – unless you consciously exert control over your own mind. It is a fact that the way in which we consistently communicate with ourselves has the capacity to make or break us. The stories we constantly retell have power. And it seems that, for too many of us, all we need is a little bit of encouragement to buy into our own victimhood – which is a very bad thing indeed.
A young woman recently accused me of traumatising her, via an intuitive consultation. I can say, with hand on heart, that there was nothing whatsoever within that recording that deserved such a response. That same day, a woman contacted me to ask if I could help to locate her son, a teenage boy who had been missing for a month. Sadly, the following day his body was discovered in a thickly wooded area. I was devastated on behalf of his family and friends – and I wondered how someone could claim to be traumatised by being told that they had hard work ahead of them if they were to achieve their stated goal… whilst someone else was facing the news that their child had been found dead (and thanked me for my help anyway). I understand that what is easy for one person is hard for another. But can you see how weak we are becoming, how self-centred, and how lacking in resilience? I know someone who works for the government department that handles the benefits system, and he tells me that the word he hears the most often, on a daily basis, is… anxiety. People are too anxious to work and too anxious to show up for interviews – but not too anxious to shout and swear when their money hasn’t been paid or is late! He says that they also often say, “it’s alright for you – you have a cushy job.” This is a young man who gets up at 6 a.m. most mornings, has a toddler to support, a mortgage to pay, and a long drive to and from work. Where he has more to do than he can comfortably handle – whilst taking abuse from those who claim to be too anxious to do what he’s doing. The big question is, what have we created?
Well, I’ll tell you what we’ve created. We’ve created a society in which those of us who continue to function and refuse to allow our anxiety to get the better of us are deemed to be ‘stronger’. And because we’re stronger, more is expected of us – we’re supposed to be more tolerant and continuously willing to make ongoing allowances for the weaker (I’m not being insulting; weak is simply the opposite of strong). I am happy being one of the strong, but make no mistake: I often feel weak. I have shared my problems with others and I have been helped more times than I can count, for which I will be eternally grateful. I had a dysfunctional childhood; I’ve had two divorces; I have been completely skint; I have made poor decisions that have negatively impacted upon my children (something I bitterly regret); I have been completely alone at times in my life, to the degree that no-one I knew would have had a clue as to whether I was dead or alive. But I have also heard the stories of thousands of others – and I know that this is just everyday life on planet Earth. And I know that I’ve had a much easier ride than many. I have been hungry but never starving; I have been financially broke but never destitute; I have been in bad relationships but am okay now; I have been hauled over the coals on the internet many times, but still have a thriving business. We really, really need to regain a sense of perspective. We are not entitled to anything other than food, water, clothes, and shelter. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll have access to medical care and education, too. Everything else is a bonus. People can and will disagree with us. Much will be expected of us. Challenges will come our way. Our comfort zone will be torn apart. Others won’t always behave the way they should be toward us. Times are going to be great and times are going to be tough. We can talk about life – but can we please stop going on and on and on about our sad stories and our mental health issues? We’re becoming like the ancient mariner who wandered the earth, telling his story over and over (except that he was motivated by guilt, whereas we are motivated by something else entirely – maybe self-pity, or the need for validation or attention?). We are making ourselves more and more miserable, and creating divides. It is weakness and selfishness that is leading us down this pathway, not the desire for collective healing. We need to toughen up – but an outward show of strength isn’t good enough. Being proud of surviving, for most of us at least, (who haven’t been locked up, starved, tortured, or beaten to within an inch of our lives) isn’t enough. We need to do more than survive (although I admit that there will be brief, temporary periods of time when that is all that we can manage to do). We need something more uplifting now, and we need to be less self-protective. And we need to stop pretending that the world doesn’t talk about the problems associated with poor mental health – it does… and increasingly too much. Because not only are we perpetuating unhappiness, as opposed to encouraging it, we are cheating those who really do need serious attention and support – the ones who too often go unheard amongst the endless cacophony of voices demanding recognition and validation. The good news is, most of us are far stronger and more resilient than we give ourselves credit for… and it’s actually okay to be happy more often than we are sad.