I want to start this off by painting a picture in your mind. Imagine that you wake up – you feel anxious and unsure about the day ahead but you get up anyway, and you get ready all while taking moments to pause, breathe and remind yourself, “You are safe, you are strong, you can do this.” After just over an hour of brush hair, pause, makeup, pause, breakfast making, pause, you’re ready to head out the door. You make the journey to work or to school, trying to ignore the nauseous feeling that anxiety has created in your body. When you arrive you take 10 minutes just to breathe and remind yourself once again that “you are safe, you are strong, you can do this”.
Sounds like a lot of extra work doesn’t it? Sounds like a lot to fit in before 9 a.m., and it is, but it works for me. This is how almost every one of my mornings go. Some days there’s a little more pausing, or a little less, but essentially this is a morning in the life of me, someone who is both anxious and depressed, but trying to live their life. After 9 a.m. most of my day is great with very little anxiety, until I get a really uncalled for email or a classmate says something rude, for example, and I’ll pause again. After a few moments I’m usually calm enough to keep going about my day. I don’t need any sort of accommodation, although I know I can ask for accommodations in both work and school, and I’m very appreciative of that.
I painted that picture for you of my routine because I doubt it’s exclusive to only me. I’m willing to bet that you or someone you know could share a similar story. I’m sharing this with you because I’m so tired of hearing people doubting the sickness someone has or doubting the abilities of the individual who is sick. There is this notion that because you show up to work or school you can’t possibly be dealing with any sort of mental illness, because if that were true you’d be home in bed, and if you do show up then you’re going to need to be tip-toed around in order to not break down during a lecture or a meeting. NO!
Many of my good friends are involved in mental health advocacy and share their personal experiences, and they are truly amazing with an abundance of strength and courage, but far too often I see people invalidating the stories they are sharing because the assumption is that if they can get on a stage and speak they can’t possibly be dealing with any issue. Or people assume that any experience they share took place firmly in the past, but that they can’t be dealing with anything now. NO!
Success and sickness aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be both. What triggers me to feel anxious, personally, has zero to do with work, but yet so often when someone finds out I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder they ask things like, “Do you need to take a break”? or “What can I do to lighten your load?” And while this might seem kind and generous to one person, to me it feels condescending. It makes me feel like the person I’m speaking to doesn’t think I am capable of having this illness and also going above and beyond for my job.
These are the types of things that are perpetuating stigma even though they may not seem like it on surface level. I know myself well enough to recognize when I need to step away or when I need to ask for help; I don’t need anyone else to constantly ask me. I do appreciate having understanding from those around me and hearing things like, ‘If you need me, let me know”.
Everyone deals with things differently and requires support in different ways – make sure your genuine efforts of support are actually making the person feel better by allowing them to identify for you what they need.
Let’s keep working together to end the stigma and support everyone who is both sick and successful.
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.