Mental health is a topic that has always been debatable. In Egypt, especially, there is a wide variety of taboos and mythical misconceptions that exist surrounding mental health.
From theories of demonic possession, to the notion that mental health issues are a sign of some weakened belief in God, to the notion that mental health is some sort of luxury that should thereby trump physical health, and finally to the notion that mental illness can simply be cured if one were to get control over his/her thoughts, the spectrum of negative and false misconceptions surrounding this topic truly seems infinite.
This last misconception, however, is one that especially picks at me. This notion of “stop having bad thoughts, stop going to the worst possible outcome possible, and, while you are at it. stop your mind feeling things as intensely.”
Unfortunately, anxiety does not work this way. Trust me, I wish I could stop it. I wish my mind’s default setting was not one which jumped to the worst possible conclusions from the simplest of problems.
This is not an easy thing to deal with; more importantly, this is not something that I like having to dealing with. I think my anxiety and need for perfectionism started in 11th grade. I had moved to a new school, and a new country. I was depressed and isolated.
I channeled all my energy into my school work. When I saw my grades go up, I became addicted to the satisfaction which comes with success and small achievements. I was no longer this depressed and isolated loser, I was doing something that mattered, and I was excelling.
Without me realizing it, however, my addiction to the satisfaction that comes with success, slowly turned into an addiction to perfectionism. It came the thought that occupied my mind, front and center. My perfectionism was the only way I know how to define myself.
I was a no one, and I became an A student, and suddenly I was someone, and that stuck with me, it defined me, and ever since then my need for order and perfection took over my life.
I think that it is the most terrible thing one can experience. You tell yourself that you that you have one job – being a student – and all you have to do is excel at that job to be someone. The red pen or mark made by a teacher came to define and re-define every aspect of my being, and not in a rational manner.
Throughout my university years slowly, but surely, I was a failure when I did not get an A, but I was not a success when I got one; when I got one A after the other, after the other, I saw merely saw myself as lucky, whereas one single B would be a cue for me to attack myself.
I am much more motivated by the fear of a failure defined as a lack of perfection, much more than I am motivated by the positive notion of success itself. This is something that has slowly made its way into every other aspect of my life, including all my relationship with any kind of loved one.
The fear of losing control, the fear of getting into a fight and the fear of having a personal or professional agreement last too long, are all things in the constant forefront of my mind and being.
This essentially means that any simple bad day at work means a genuine and very real fear of getting fired, whilst any small quarrel with a friend translates into a genuine fear of losing them forever. My mind is constantly in a state of exhaustive overdrive. The worst part, of course, is my awareness that all these thoughts are irrational.
This is why someone who tells me “hey your thoughts are irrational just stop having them” is actually not helping. On the contrary, she/he is making it worse by reminding me that I cannot control the negative thoughts that I already know are irrational.
Next time, before you attack someone for having a mental health complain, please try to take the time to know their story and their side. Indeed, this is the least you can do, given that person’s mind to judge, not yours.