Emotional illness is a complex subject. The first being that it is often quite difficult to define. When does moodiness become more of a condition? Is it always so?
Emotional illness is just as real as physical illness and there is the same degree of variation in the severity. In the same way as a cold is very different from cancer, so there are different levels in our emotional health too.
But for some reason it is perfectly socially acceptable to have the flu or a migraine but often not to be paralysed by low emotions. Yet this can happen just as easily.
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations which we can’t deal with immediately. They can shock our systems, and make us angry or upset. We actually need time to process them so it’s not realistic to expect them to become resolved overnight. In some cases we can do this alongside other activities, but sometimes they can floor us to such an extent that we need to take time out from our day to day lives to work them through.
Guess what? This is just like physical illness. Sometimes you can go to work with a cold, but if it becomes flu, you might need to take some time off.
Our emotions are our guidance that our lives are on track. If our lives go off track, we start to feel out of sorts. This is quite normal. However we need to feel we can take the time necessary to heal. If we take the time when the issues are small, they are unlikely to build up to become bigger issues later, or even physical disease.
It is hard enough to ride the roller-coaster of life with all its ups and downs, but it’s even harder still if we are suffering from something like stress or depression or any other mental illness. These illnesses can go on for a while and if the sufferer fears they will be judged for them or not maybe not believed, they can end up unable to reach out and this will make the whole process more difficult and more unpleasant. Once retreated within themselves, it’s a short distance to loneliness and social isolation. And then there’s the feeling that there’s “something wrong with me”, “I don’t fit in” or even “I’m not normal”.
We don’t seem to find that with physical illness. If we have back ache, it’s very clear that we are going to struggle. We don’t start questioning our self worth and feeling guilty for not feeling well.
Because the nature of mental illness is that it affects how we feel and think, our perception of the situation is altered. We can blame ourselves for how we feel. “I should be stronger”, “I’m just being lazy” or “Am I really ill?”. We can get confused and unless we have an objective person around us with the skills and experience to understand what is going on with us, it can be very hard to really see what is happening.
Often it’s difficult to define when we are emotionally unwell. Sometimes we do just need to push on through, especially if it’s a little emotional blip. We can’t be taking to our beds for every little emotional hiccup. But because the society we live in still doesn’t seem to understand emotional health, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to take time out. We put a brave face on things when it’s above and beyond what should be expected of us.
Really, here in the western world most of us haven’t mastered our emotional health at all. A lot of us were brought up to “get over it” or “a cup of tea will make it all better”, thereby either reducing the importance of what we were feeling or portraying the idea that being outwardly happy was the solution to aim for.
So because we’ve been taught to look outside of ourselves for the answers to these problems, rather than going within, we end up projecting onto the people and events around us and we start ascribing blame. We blame others for our emotions; others blame us for our emotional behaviour; and we hit a stalemate.
So how do we change this?
I would like to see a society where we talk more about our emotional health. I’d like to live in a society where I can say “I felt particularly sad last week – not sure why” and it being received in the same way as if I’d said I had a cold last week. I’d like it to be acceptable to announce to your work colleagues that you had to go to bed for the afternoon because you felt so low and it be received in the same way as if you’d gone to bed with a migraine.
And in order to create this society, I’d like to educate the world bit by bit about emotional health. The more we understand our emotional health, the better able we are to look after it. The more we are able to own our emotions for what they are, the less impact they will have on others. And so, being emotionally unwell will be easier for other people to understand and cope with. And hopefully the shame of it will diminish.
So I’m starting to do my bit by writing this blog.
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Tags: culture, emotional health