Have you ever caught yourself avoiding a situation out of fear – not of anxiety, but of how peers will react if anxiety (or any mental illness) were to show its head? Have you ever caught yourself not trying to explain to someone how you’re feeling because you’ve already decided they won’t understand or will think you’re completely weird? I do it all the time; we all do, for a variety of reasons, however, I caught myself the other day in a situation where I ended up feeling like I had unintentionally convinced my friend that I believed the stigma surrounding mental illness. Let me explain.
I was spending time with a new friend when I began to feel very anxious. While I feel comfortable around this person, I wasn’t sure how they’d react the first time they actually experienced me in a rougher time. Since I couldn’t easily leave the situation, I tried to explain to my friend how I was feeling, and then I apologized. And I kept apologizing. Saying things like, “I’m so weird, I know, I’m sorry” and “God, I wish this wasn’t happening, I’m so sorry, I just don’t feel okay”. My friend kept reassuring me that it was fine and that he didn’t think I was weird. He asked me what he could get for me, and the entire time I just kept saying that I was sorry. Looking back, I should have said thank you.
I was experiencing what is referred to as self-stigma, and it was almost like I was sabotaging myself and our friendship by pointing out all the things that were wrong with me and almost telling him how to feel, even though he wasn’t judging me and only wanted to help. I understand that stigma is real and feeling like my mental illness might negatively impact the opinion that someone has on me isn’t a completely irrational thought, but it also isn’t completely rational, either. Having the preconceived notion that no one will ever “get you”, or that someone who doesn’t face a mental illness actually can’t ever hang out with you without thinking you’re a strange new creature, only perpetuates that stigma. I strongly feel that beliefs like that and constantly apologizing for ourselves are not helping to decrease stigma around mental illnesses.
I don’t think it’s possible for me, or for anyone, to completely change this mindset. It’s your guard, you’re used to the negative and feeling different so it really is hard to accept that not everyone is going to focus on those things, but try to be mindful that they may genuinely be trying to understand and might actually want to be your friend regardless, shocking though it is! New friendships are hard, but I hope before you automatically write your next one off as someone who isn’t going to understand, you’ll reflect on this post and give them a shot. They just might be one of the greatest pieces of your support team.
About Alyssa Frampton
Alyssa Frampton is a public relations student at Humber College, and a mental health and youth advocate. Alyssa works with ACCESS-Youth Mental Health Canada, is the Co-Chair of a national youth advisory the Young Canadians Roundtable on Health, and as a Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada alumni can often be found talking about the importance of removing the stigma around at-risk. As a previously at-risk student who has suffered bouts of depression and manages BPD and anxiety daily, Alyssa is very passionate in working to ensure that other young people feel more supported along their path than she did at the start, and in changing the system to be more inclusive and accessible for all youth. In her free time, she is a serial Netflix watcher, tea drinker, Wonder Woman fanatic and can often be found ranting off about topics from Mental Health – Canadian politics.