What Appears to Be Mental Health Stigma Might Be Self-Care
It may seem odd to say that mental health stigma might actually be self-care, but hear me out. When we're struggling and someone pulls away, it can feel very much like mental health stigma. We might think that person doesn't understand or is being unfair. But what if it isn't stigma at all and that person is simply practicing self-care?
Understanding that What Appears to Be Mental Health Stigma Might Be Self-Care
Depression Stigma: You're Too Negative
The most common way I've been stigmatized for my depression is being told I'm too negative ("Negative Thinking and Depression: How One Fuels the Other"). In high school, my friend's mom had a nickname for me: the doomy gloomy kid. At the time, I thought it was kind of funny for some reason, but looking back now, that nickname, to some degree, came from a place of mental health stigma. It fell into the school of thought that depression is a choice people make.
Then a few years ago, another friend stopped talking to me because he said I was too negative. I've always thought of that as blatantly stigmatizing. But I've been thinking about it lately, especially knowing his own struggles. It's got me wondering about this idea that maybe he wasn't trying to be stigmatizing at all. Maybe he was doing it as an act of self-care and giving the negativity as a reason why he needed to pull back. This skirts on the topic of one of my recent blogs about intention and mental health stigma, but I want to explore this further.
When Cutting Ties Becomes Self-Care for Mental Health
I know that cutting ties is sometimes the best option for your own mental health. As much as I would like my support to be a constant, I've felt first-hand how someone else's energy can affect me, even if it's no fault of his or her own. Let's be real, dealing with mental illness isn't easy for anyone involved and sometimes we need to step back so we don't jeopardize ourselves while trying to take care of others. I know I've had to. It's a nice notion to be ever-present in your support, but sometimes it's not realistic.
I'm not trying to make excuses for those who seem to harshly cut us off because of the negatives that come with mental illness. All I'm saying is those we rely on have to consider themselves and their mental wellbeing too. Just as we can't help those we love when we're spent, they can't either. Self-care is an important part of making sure we're our best selves, whether that's to help others or not. ("Why Self-Care is Important for Your Physical and Mental Health")
What Do We Do When Our Mental Health Support Systems Can't Be There for Us?
Bluntly, we need to find another avenue of support or help ("Where to Get Mental Health Help"). That might suck, considering how tough it can be to build those support networks anyway, but having a backup plan is always a great idea.
Later, we can reunite with our loved ones who supported us previously. These instances don't mean we need to sever ties forever. That second friend and I are speaking again, for instance.
We can learn and grow in our mental health journeys together.
Barton, L. (2018, December 21). What Appears to Be Mental Health Stigma Might Be Self-Care, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, October 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2018/12/what-appears-to-be-mental-health-stigma-might-be-self-care
Author: Laura A. Barton
I get this, but I would like to see the people who pull away for reasons of self-care develop more helpful language for explaining this to the one they are leaving. It is hard enough to make friends when you have mental illness, and when those friends walk away, it can be devastating. On a similar note, I recall times that I broke off friendships when I was highly symptomatic because I didn’t want to continue hurting them. It can work both ways.
Hey Trish. You’re totally right — some people need to work on better communicating why they’re breaking off from us. I think it’s also important to remember though that sometimes people don’t know how to effectively communicate these things. For instance, I know when I withdraw that I don’t typically communicate why. I just do it. It can be hard to see outside ourselves and our struggles in those moments and we just need to do what we need to do. Absolutely, it can be devastating being on the receiving end of that, but what I was hoping to do with this blog is offer some perspective about why people might pull away so that we can learn to cope with it as well. We all need to learn, I suppose, how to talk about these moments more effectively.