That which is not ex-pressed is de-pressed.Mark Nepo
I am sure this is something we can all relate to at some point in our lives. You know those moments when you are breaking inside, but rather than vent and release the emotions which are so freely suffocating us, we choose to smile and go on. We cover up what is happening on the inside, just like we would cover a bleeding cut with a plaster.
But what happens when we are bleeding on the inside?
When all we want to do is to scream, shout, cry or run away. What do you do then?
A fake smile can hide a multitude of feelings
Feelings of stress, worry, depression, anxiety, betrayal, rejection, grief and loss. The list goes on. One in four people has experienced a mental illness at some point in their life. Stressful events such as losing your job, money problems, relationship issues, bereavement and family history of mental illness can all impact our mental health.
When my Dad passed away suddenly, I felt numb, shocked, heartbroken, but on the outside, I appeared strong and composed for my family because I thought that’s what I needed to do. I needed to hold it together for my mum and brother, doing anything to reassure them that we will be ok and we can get through it together. I went on like this for weeks, months even. The reality was that I was silently weeping on the inside at the thought of never seeing him again. To laugh with him (or at him), share stories of memories and tell him how much I loved him.
It wasn’t long before the mask finally began to crack. I had pushed down and suppressed my emotions more than I could handle. When I finally released them, it was like an overflowing river. The tears would come and go as they pleased, and I allowed them to because letting go allowed me to feel free. Free from this never-ending aching pain inside of me. I realised, the more I expressed and talked openly about how I was feeling, the freer I felt. The less I said, the more lost and isolated I felt.
The fastest way to freedom is to feel your feelings.Gita Bellin
It’s ok not to be ok.
In our society, people associate showing emotion and vulnerability with being weak. If you have heard the term “British stiff upper lip”, you probably have an idea of what I’m referring to. This idea that we (British people) are reserved, unemotional, or find it hard to show our feelings, especially in public. We suck it up and carry on. Why?
Why is it that we can not express how we are feeling? To be open, honest and authentic about what we are going through. Men are hit the hardest with this stigma. The idea that men are strong and can take care of themselves. Societal expectations and traditional gender roles play a role in why men are less likely to discuss or seek help for their mental health problems.
What’s behind your smile?
Over the last week, I have watched various documentaries that have looked at the impact of mental health and suicide. I was shocked and saddened by what I saw because it could happen to any of us. It made me realise we don’t really know what people are going through. The friend or family member that on the outside always appears to be ok may not be ok. Do we really know what is going on deep down inside of people?
The Roman Kemp documentary ‘Our Silent Emergency’ showed just how hard it is to recognise when somebody is suffering in silence. On the outside, they appear to be positive and happy, but on the inside, they are breaking. He talked about the loss of his close friend and how he didn’t spot the signs. He appeared ‘happy’. Smiling, joking his usual self, but behind his smile was a totally different reality. He did not see that something was wrong before it was too late.
This last year has challenged many of us. The feelings of isolation, uncertainty, change, loss; it has tested all of us in different ways, but the impact on mental health has been astounding. If you are struggling, then know that you are not alone. Don’t ever feel you are burdening others by talking about your problems. You matter! The people around you in your circle love you. They will support you no matter what you are going through.
In recent years, we have come a long way with openly talking about our mental health. As a nation, we now recognise the importance of mental health as equal to our physical health. There is more support, information and services out there that can help us recognise and understand the symptoms and impact of having a mental illness. We still have a long way to go in terms of money being put into the right areas to offer and provide vital mental health services. I am however, hopeful and optimistic that we are taking the steps in the right direction to make a much-needed change.
What can you do if you are struggling with your mental health
- Talk- It seems so obvious, but the best thing you can do is to tell somebody how you are feeling. That can be a family member, friend, co-worker or professional, but somebody you can trust and be vulnerable and open with. Talking about it will not only get you the help and support you need, but it will also allow you to work through and understand what’s going on in your mind.
- Write it down- Sometimes, we can find it difficult to express and explain how we feel. You may find it easier to write it down or make some notes on your phone. Preparing what you want to say can make it feel less daunting during the process. You can refer to them when you share with somebody, or it may make you feel more comfortable for them to read it before you speak about it.
- Seek professional help- Book an appointment with your GP or use services available to you who all provide free help and support such as:
How you can support others with their mental health
- Express your concern- Letting someone know you are worried about them not only lets them know that you care but could then lead to a much-needed conversation.
- Take time out to listen- Listening is such an important skill we can have as humans. Take the time to listen to what someone has to say. When I say listen, I mean truly listen without distractions, time restrictions etc. You want to show the person that what they are saying matters to you.
- Be patient- They may not be ready to share their whole story with you, and that is ok. Reassure the person that you understand and will be there when they are ready.
- Don’t force it- Allow the person to seek help themselves. Don’t force someone to talk or seek help for them. It may lead them to feel uncomfortable and shut down even further.
- Offer help, not solutions – Ask the person how you can help them. It may be that they are struggling with a particular issue that you could support them with. Try not to offer solutions to to ‘fix’ the problem. We are not experts or trained in the profession to diagnose or give solutions. Simply offer to support in anyway you can.
Be the catalyst of change. Be the person who asks if somebody is ok. Be the person that is vulnerable enough to openly talk about how they are feeling; Which may encourage others to do the same.