I wanted to right this blog post for a while, but I didn’t really know how to start it. In our world, we make a lot of assumptions. We need these assumptions ( called schemas to psychologists) to help us organize and understand our world. We need to assume that if inhale, we will get air, if we wait for a train, a train will come ( eventually, if we are waiting at the station near the tracks). We need these assumptions to function. We use these assumptions to understand our every day world. Assumptions can be an issue is when we use them to form stereotypes, that we than hold people to. We assume that based on a particular set of emotional or physical traits or outcomes within our lives, we must be a certain kind of person. Anyone reading this ( hi mom!) can probably think of a time they felt an stereotype was being applied to them.
I experience this a lot. With people being really weirded out when I tell them “no really, my parents are Portuguese!” or “ No my sister actually is THAT tall”. We all experience it. Sometimes in harmless ways that (while it can be frustrating) won’t really affect our lives one way or the other. I am writing this blog today to talk about the times when these assumptions have really been hurtful. I live with depression, anxiety and attempted suicide many years ago. I now speak out about stigma facing mental health issues, advocating for better and more inclusive treatment options and creating hope for recovery.
This causes me to get a lot of weird assumptions put on me. Most common ones are just a misunderstanding that comes with not being educated on the topic. They usually are…”but you don’t look sad”, “but you have a life, a job…?” or that look that a dog makes when you confuse it and it keeps turning its head in a circle. I have had TV reporters ask to interview me, and me walk into an interview about bullying… when they never once asked me if I had been bullied. Because… hey… everyone who attempted suicide must be bullied right? right? well… not always.
The worst assumption that is made about me is the ones that undermine my journey. I wrote a blog for CAMH a few weeks ago, and I was pretty happy with it. Than all of a sudden ( as happens on the internet) a guy starts ripping it to shreds. * if you are familiar with the okay meme face.. place it here* I thought maybe I had actually said something wrong. In the blog, I referred to overdramatic emo kids, as one of the media representations that I did not want people to assume I was. He took it as me calling all emo kids over dramatic and ripped into me. I just simply meant me ( an emo kid at the time) did not want to be seen as overdramatic as they pictured us in the media. The guy than went on to assume because I was white, straight ( hey this is news to me, I am straight?) and rich ( wait.. also news to me) I had access to private treatment(okay now we are just making things up now) and it was the only reason I had hope on the subject. That all came from one picture included in the blog, he assumed my life was not a valid story to reflect the current system. It cut through me like a knife. It really hurt. It was only worsen when he started calling me a sell out. I will share that I seldom get paid for most of the work I do(speaking I get paid for now, but that wasn’t the case for 2 years).
As I was starring at the computer screen, in tears and upset the only thing I could remember was what my grade eight teacher taught me. Assuming makes an ass out of you and me. He made it seem like my story wasn’t valid, and his was the only one that matter. I toyed with fulfilling the urge to point out his many flaws in not only me, but the opinions shared Bell Lets talk day and CAMH initiatives. But than I remembered an “Ass out of you and me”. His story is important, the other voice and experience is important. By lashing back out I would just be making an ass out of me. So, with the guidance of lovely Kate at CAMH we wrote a response. It became clear after, that he was intent on being angry at CAMH and me as an extension of CAMH, but did not offer a solution other than we need to do something. We DO need to do something, and we are trying doing something. My hope is that we can find a way of talking to people like him, to ensure these experiences aren’t as negative for him and others moving forward.
But… I will not like his assumptions.. make an ass out of me.
In the end, we all face these stereotypes/assumptions sometimes. Mental health issue or not, we run into someone who imposes traits on us that we never actually had or plan to have. We need to find our inner confidence, to ensure ourselves that we aren’t that way. And that whoever we are dealing with, their views are the product of some part of their experience, and we are not always responsible for how they view us. It’s not our fault, but if we want, we can try and take the high route and go bitch to our friends in private. We can try and work with them to change their minds. Our stories, our opinions are real, and we should not feel bad for having them. We should, however, keep ourselves in check about our own assumptions and respect that everyone has their own stories that makes them different. As someone who tweeted something showing my negative assumptions about brain surgery for mental illnesses to Canada AM this morning ( and got a reply.. oops), I know its not that easy. But all we can do is try.