I’ve been told by several people that I seem like a “very calm, happy, and confident person”. This is often at odds with how I see myself, which is certainly not the picture of poise I am made out to be. I have to remind myself that the world only sees what I allow it to see – including carefully curated Facebook posts that show my best side. I think of myself as relatively open about my mental health, yet I still go to great lengths to conceal my mood sometimes. It’s a tough habit to break, because I am constantly afraid of coming across as irritable, mopey or tense – but aren’t those all valid human emotions? I am so obsessed with keeping up a certain image that I bottle up negative thoughts and feelings until they come crashing down on me in private. Not the best coping strategy.
In the past I’ve criticized the way mental illness is portrayed in the media (specifically, lack of diversity and representation), but I am also frustrated with the same old imagery that’s used. Person with hands on head, looking downward. Person with hands covering face. Person staring miserably out of rainy window. It’s as if mental illness can only be represented by this vague notion of sadness, which is misleading at best and dangerous at worst. Mental illness is about so much more. Mental illness includes bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and anxiety disorders. There is a whole spectrum of emotions and experiences that cannot be captured in a single photo of a person looking sad. This kind of misrepresentation makes it seem like sadness is pathological, or that mentally ill people can’t be happy. I don’t know which assumption is worse.
I am a really anxious person, but I can still be really happy too. My days have ups and downs like everyone else. I take lots of pictures of myself smiling because it helps remind me that I can be happy. I have accepted that I will likely deal with anxiety to a certain extent for most of my life, but it doesn’t mean I’m doomed to wring my hands in fear for every second of it. I think a lot of people see mental illness as an all-or-nothing kind of deal: you’re either really depressed or you’re not. You either spend every single day crying in bed or you’re fine. You’re either crazy or you’re sane. The truth is, it’s a lot more complicated than that. People with mental illness are people like you and me who have to buy groceries and go to work, who can still have friends and have fun. They’re people who feel frustrated, angry, joyful, confident, nervous, excited, or calm. People with mental illness don’t necessarily “look” like they have a disorder.
P.S. – For a great campaign featuring photos of people with mental illness who DON’T look sad, check out HCM’s #Close2Home campaign. It’s running all this week for Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) and a new, thought-provoking image is posted every day! Check out their Facebook and Twitter (@Healthy_Minds) to participate.
Photo credit: “Watermelon feelings” by Nats Sitticus on Flickr.
About Jasmin Yee
Jasmin Yee is an Ottawa-based young professional who has dealt with mental illness since the end of high school. Now 24, she has a passion for mental health advocacy and breaking down the barriers that make it so hard to talk publicly about mental illness. She writes about her experiences with depression and anxiety on her blog, as well as her thoughts on how to reduce stigma. Jasmin aims to develop a career in health promotion so that she can connect with at-risk communities and enable them to take care of their mental health.