This week when someone with whom I have regular contact asked how I was, I responded in a typical curt fashion, “Fine.” Response from person: “Really? You don't seem fine. You haven't been acting like yourself lately.” My internal (silent) retort: “Do you know what my normal self usually acts like?”
Society isn’t accustomed to people having, let alone showing, emotions outside the norm. Nor is society used to asking a question and receiving any answer but the most canned, expected, and nondisruptive one. Therein lies part of the problem that perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental health.
Humans are emotional beings. We are meant to feel. Some humans feel happy practically every gosh darn day of their life. If you’re one of these people, lucky you! I would never wish self harm, depression, or anxiety upon anyone.
Other humans, myself included, are more sensitive and emotional. Thanks to a serotonin and/or dopamine deficiency that gives us a natural proclivity for sadness, we simply cannot be permagrin-happy all the time, every day. It's in our brain chemistry. We have highs and lows, and sometimes the lows supercede the highs. It’s not a bad thing; it just is.
Rather than suffer through awkward conversations and disrupt the status quo, it’s much easier to go through the motions. I did this for most of my teen and young adult life. Smile. Nod. Play happy. Everything's fine. Everything’s great. This act of pretending can only go on for so long. With each fake emotion, a real emotion is pushed aside, raw and undealt with. The emotions pile up inside, and eventually they get pushed to the surface. The rush is chaotic and uncontrollable. How does a person cope with such a mudslide? Answer: poorly. Personally, I used to cut myself. I would drag the business end of a safety pin up and down my forearm, digging into the skin to form beads of blood. As I’d etch into my arm as lovers etch hearts onto tree trunks, a sense of relief would wash over me. Finally, I could feel.
I’m thankful and lucky that my own past suicidal gestures didn't result in death. Others close to me have not been so lucky. I’m going to go ahead and state the obvious. Bottling emotions is unhealthy, but often feels necessary to make it through a day unscathed. I hope for a world where we are allowed to feel real emotions, without shame and judgement.
Next time you ask someone how they're doing, know that their answer may not be so positive. If it isn't, please know that it's neither your obligation nor your right to fix it. Conversely, if someone asks you how you're doing, it's ok to not be fine, and to not want to talk about it.