It’s difficult to expose yourself. To share with anyone what you think, what you feel, to explain why you haven’t been acting yourself. I knew the stigma of mental illness and expected to be judged. I was suffering from anorexia nervosa, anxiety, depression and at times suicidal thoughts. I was a perfectionist. I set unrealistically high standards for myself and when I did not meet those standards, I would self-destruct. Mistakes have levels, there is a difference between accidentally bumping into someone in the grocery store and accidentally leaving a candle lit that starts a fire. To me, every standard I didn’t meet felt extreme, like I set my house on fire. Of course I didn’t mean to. Of course I would have avoided it if I had known. However, I didn’t have any self-compassion. I’d like to share this advice for fellow perfectionists – it’s simple, yet easier said than done. To some extent, even hearing others tell you that you have unrealistic expectations may fuel your fire or may simply not matter to you, you still feel the need to achieve it. My suggestion to you is: talk about it, it’s freeing and could lead to positive outcomes.
Unrealistic expectations are easier to identify when you share them with someone you trust. – Julia W.
I remember my Junior year of high school, I failed my mythology course. I received my score and instantly, my body was numb. I began to sweat. I wasn’t aware of my surroundings, all that I could hear was the negativity in my head. I got anxiety. I bullied myself to the point that I felt like I deserved pain. I thought back to the time I cut my arm in middle school and began to crave the satisfaction that I felt afterward. I needed to give my body what it deserved for failing. I opened up to my brother and asked if I could come over so that I wasn’t alone. Mental illness feels isolating already and I usually preferred it, but this time felt different. I remember just laying on the bed feeling lifeless, but I felt comfort in knowing that he was there. When I went back to school, I was called to the principal’s office. She wanted to inform me that the fee for failing the class was waived since it was out of character for me. The counselor walked in shutting the door behind her and sat at the table. The principal told me that my mother called, followed by silence. She said that my mother wanted her to talk to me, followed again by silence. Turns out, my mother noticed that I was not acting myself and since I wouldn’t speak to her, she leaned on my school for help. I felt like the jig was up – they knew. They knew that something was wrong with me. They knew that I was crazy. I was quiet, my blood began to boil, my face shot red, and I grabbed my phone to call my parents. I’m not sure what I wanted more, to argue with my mother about the betrayal I felt, or to call my father and tell him that I needed him to pick me up. I began to cry and the principal took my phone and told me I could not have access to it. I said that I needed to go to the bathroom which honestly meant that I wanted to go find my best friends, I needed them. I knew that they would be able to help me. I was told that I could not leave unless supervised by the counselor. She followed me to the bathroom, which at this point I had to go through with in order to gain time to brainstorm a new plan. Still crying I begged her over and over to leave me alone, I told her that I didn’t do anything wrong. I just needed to be alone. She refused and called the school authorities to control me. By that I mean, make sure that I did not escape from the counselor’s sight by surrounding me. I was walked back to the principal’s office and left alone. The next time the door opened, it was my father. He came to get me. He was going to take me away. He was going to save me. I walked away with my father feeling complete fear, embarrassment, shame, loneliness, and anger. I hadn’t even accepted that I had mental illness at this time and now peers and complete strangers witnessed what had happened.
I just remember being worried for you because it seemed unfair. They saw an issue and panicked. Maybe there’s a lack of training dealing with mental illness? I feel like it’s counterproductive to isolate someone who’s already isolated. At the same time I didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. I wanted to help but I wasn’t sure how, or even if I could help. – Selina G.
This post reflects feelings that I had at that time, I enjoy writing this way because they are feelings that I’ve never been able to share. It is now seven years later and I recognize that my mother and the staff at school were intending to help me. At the time, it felt like the ultimate betrayal. I felt like it was myself against the world. I have since then gained a better understanding of myself and coping mechanisms that work for me. Despite good intentions, I think the important message here is education.
In a perfect world, mental illness would be accepted by all, it would be safe to share your feelings and thoughts. Experiencing a depression episode, for example, would be taken as seriously as a physical injury and there would be no stigma.
I can’t speak to the protocol in schools for supporting a student that suffers a mental illness – but I’m very interested in continuing my research on the process. With that being said, I can’t say whether the actions that were taken were right, I can only say that it did not feel right for me. Every individual with mental illness is different; therefore, different approaches need to be used. Mental health is unfortunately still a touchy topic today, it’s very personal and nobody’s responsibility but the individual’s. Understandingly, it’s difficult to know how to help. The most important advice I can give if a loved one is suffering a mental illness is to be there, listen and ask questions. Even if you cannot relate or do not understand, feeling heard is an incredible weight lifted. Ask if there is anything you can do to help without taking responsibility for their mental health. Take care of yourself, don’t forget that your health is important too. Continue to educate yourself and inform them of helpful resources. This may not only be a confusing topic for you, it is always, or at times confusing to the individual as well. Hopeful thinking along the lines of education: it would be extremely helpful to have mental health classes in schools, whether it is one or several. This can help build a safe environment at a young age and form understanding and acceptance toward others that have mental illness as well as reduced feelings of isolation for individuals with mental illness. I’ve read several articles stressing the scarcity of mental health providers (psychiatrists, specialists, counselors, etc.) in comparison to the demand. I think this speaks a lot to the lack of mental health education. As if I didn’t say it enough –
EDUCATE. EDUCATE. EDUCATE.
Please watch this amazing video created by a mental health charity, Mind.