Here’s a little bit of humility for you: Last weekend, I screwed up. I take my own mistakes quite personally, and so finding out that I had overstepped and offended a friend sent me into a three-day tailspin.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, I told myself. Plus a few curse words.
You see, as a student-turned-practitioner of mental health work, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about it. I’ve read all the textbooks, written all the papers, surveyed all the data, and practiced (FOR FREE!!!) all day, every day, in various clinical rotations throughout the year. So I was quite hard on myself once I’d learned that I’d made a big the biggest error ever. Indeed, it stung like salt in a paper cut to hear that, despite my good intentions and pricey education, I clearly do not understand mental illness. Not really, anyway.
Last weekend, I told a friend, who openly and tirelessly battles depression, to just… cheer up.
“Get motivated,” I instructed her over the phone on a Sunday morning. “It’s a gorgeous day, and you’ve been in bed since Tuesday!”
I will admit that I often find myself quite frustrated with this friend. It might be because laziness was something of a mortal sin in my home growing up, it might also be due to the fact that I personally have trouble just sitting and doing nothing, though it’s been suggested to me repeatedly. For a million reasons, and then some, every time I receive a text message from her saying that she has to cancel last minute, because she’s just not feeling up to it, and she hopes I understand, I heave a dramatic sigh and think, typical.
Where is my compassion? How come I can’t just understand like she hoped I would? What does this say about me as a mental health practitioner? What does this say about me as a person? I’m all about that rough n’ tumble fight to snuff out stigma, but in my day to day life, my own prejudices still pop up from time to time, and can I help it? I don’t know. Apparently not.
Since then, I’ve been deeply troubled. Do I truly see depression as laziness? Addiction as stubbornness? Anxiety as cowardliness? I mean, I don’t think I do… but perhaps… well… I might. In some strange, disconnected way — the kind where logic and core beliefs run parallel, but never connect — I honestly do find myself grappling with these things, the irony being that I personally suffer from at least one of the aforementioned.
Reflecting on this, I’m reminded of that old saying, “when you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” I think it’s time that I take a closer look at the judgments I hold (though rigorously deny) and get curious about what it means for me, and what it could mean to the people around me, before I say something mean to someone I care about again.
About Carli Stephens-Rothman
With a BA in Journalism from Ryerson University, Carli has been writing professionally for seven years. Today she can admit that six of those were mostly a blur. Reaching a year clean and sober in December of 2015 -- after privately (and then not so privately) battling addiction for much of her twenties -- Carli has refocused her personal and professional lives in order to nurture a new path. From her home on Vancouver Island, she continues to freelance for a number of Toronto-based publications, including The Toronto Star and SheDoesTheCity, while setting out upon a new academic journey in the field of addictions and mental health. When not writing or studying, or exploring the brilliant world of recovery, she teaches yoga with a focus on healing and confidence-building.