“No, I hate myself,” I whispered, my lower lip trembling as silent tears slid down my face. I looked up and into the blue eyes filled with tears that stared back at me in the mirror.
My mind studied the image, focusing on every flaw, every stain, every blemish, criticizing, shredding, and tormenting the body and the weakness that was exposed.
Five minutes prior, I had walked out of a room filled with people.
People who genuinely loved and cared about me.
The last question someone had asked as I got up to leave was, “Are you okay?”
I had nodded yes, lying through a pasted on smile, only to keep up appearances, forcing the tears away.
I didn’t want to bother anyone with the truth…
I’m not okay… but I probably will never admit it.
I’m not okay… but I probably won’t show it.
I’m not okay… but most people will never know.
We, Americans, are really good at pretending.
We are really good at playing hide and seek with our emotions and feelings, with our Mental Health status, with our overall wellbeing.
We are masters of deception.
We take a page from the Chinese cultural textbook in terms of saving face. We would hate to look weak or burdensome to someone else. This is especially true when it comes to being honest about how we are doing.
American culture is all about independence.
It’s all about the ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
We are taught to “fake it til you make it.”
I can’t tell you how many times I was told to paste on a smile and force myself to go through the motions, even when I wasn’t doing well.
I was told to hide my true feelings, because I shouldn’t impose them on others.
For years, mental health was considered taboo.
We put our “special” students in their own classrooms, hidden in the back of the school building, but prior to that, we refused to educate our students we considered “mentally retarded.”
We put our “mentally ill” in locked hospitals and insane asylums. We sterilized those we considered “weak minded.”
Perhaps, this is why, for years, mental health was kept so hidden, so secretive.
We would hate for anyone to see us differently. We would hate to appear broken. We would hate to be forced to do something to “fix” the problem, temporarily, when in reality, the root of the issue wasn’t being addressed.
We were just slapping a bandaid on bullet wound, ignoring the reality that we were losing blood, and hope, faster than we could imagine.
In reality, though, this “fake it til you make it” mentality is killing us.
Slowly, but surely, it’s killing us, literally and figuratively.
Our veterans are coming back a mess externally, internally, or, more often, both. They often never receive help, despite their willingness to defend the freedoms that this country provides.
On any given night, 105,000 of the homeless are veterans. People assume that these men and women should be able to be independent and pull themselves up, finding the help they need.
Just “fake it til you make it” because life can’t be as hard as a war…
Our students, who desperately need mental health services, don’t receive the help they need, which has significantly impacted suicide rates, school achievement, and graduation rates.
1 in 5 students show symptoms of a mental illness, yet 80% won’t receive any help.
Most people assume, “Oh it’s a phase. Oh it’s just the teenage years. Oh, they are just being overdramatic.” I know, because I was told those things too.
Just “fake it til you make it” because high school isn’t that hard and your feelings will pass…
Our religious circles have done a pretty poor job of addressing the reality of mental illness.
When people talk about feelings of depression and anxiety, those in religious communities often tell them they aren’t praying about it enough or reading their Bible/Quran/etc. enough.
They tell them that these feelings will go away eventually, but “God wants to teach you something right now.”
Just “fake it til you make it” because you clearly aren’t being religious enough or learning the lesson you need to learn fast enough…
I have struggled with anxiety and depression for probably longer than I ever realized.
I was recently diagnosed in 2016 and have gone through extensive therapy. Thankfully, I have come out the other side, understanding on a deeper level what my mind does, why I am so compassionate to others, while withholding that same compassion from myself.
Unfortunately, many people who struggle with mental health issues don’t either seek out help or aren’t able to pay for the extensive costs that are involved with finding mental health support.
When I was growing up, I was told I wasn’t praying hard enough to make my anxiety go away.
I was being overdramatic about my feelings and that it was “normal” to have all the feelings I had. My feelings were belittled and I was told that I was fine, that I just needed to “deal with it.”
These answers were trite, hurtful, and, really, not true.
Recently, I was at a training for work in which we were asked to answer prompts by moving under different posters around the room that coincided with how we felt.
Not surprisingly, when the prompt, “The feeling I struggle most with is…” was read, the majority of the room moved under the poster that read: Feeling like a failure, not enough.
This room I was standing in was filled with teachers.
Teachers just like myself. Some of the most compassionate human beings on the planet, and yet, we struggle with showing love toward ourselves.
I can’t tell you how many of my teacher friends struggle with feelings of anxiety, depression and self-worth.
I’m guessing if you had an average group of Americans do this same exercise, you probably would find the same answer as the most common answer for that prompt too.
It’s time for Americans to pull their heads out of the sand.
We have been watching countless numbers of famous actors and actresses perish at the hands of suicide. We have seen a spike in drug abuse, which is simply a symptom of a much deeper issue.
We have become some of the most divided people on the planet, but in reality, we need to stand together to address this mental health crisis.
It’s time for us to realize that we need to create space for mental health and honor the importance of it.
Our kids depend on it.
Our veterans depend on it.
We, as human beings, depend on it.
Stop, You Can’t Just “Fake It Til You Make It” was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.