The Truth of How We're Feeling
This week, we asked our intern Andrew: Do you see people in your network/friendship group talking about their experiences? Is it more hidden? What is your personal experience like within your friend network in college?
This is what he said:
I think it depends from group to group, how open people are about their mental health issues but there is an overall awareness and acceptance of mental health and mental illness. Not everyone may go into huge detail, and there are even people who don’t talk about it casually, but it is never something completely ignored or looked over.
There’s a spectrum to how open my friends are about their mental illness. To one extreme there are some friends that stay reserved and private, and to the other they are readily open. My non-open friends never deny the fact that they struggle with an illness but keeping it as their own business. In those cases, their issues are only brought up during very serious one-on-one talks among trusted friends or when they are in the middle of adverse situations that are mental health related.
Near the middle of the spectrum I’ve noticed that plenty of people maintain a moderate level of openness. They might talk about it a bit when asked and might explain to someone that the reason they were acting a certain way was because of their mental illness but they won’t go out of their way to mention it so much. With some in this part of the spectrum they might be down to talk about their problems more, with others less so. Generally speaking, however, if asked “what’s wrong” at the very most they might say “I’m just having ____ issue “ or “my anxiety has been acting up lately” but not necessarily expanding (much) on this. At the very least they might make an excuse and dodge the question.
At the other extreme, there are people I know who are very open about their issues. Especially when feeling safe and comfortable to do so, they will tell you almost exactly whats up at the question of “how have you been? What have you been up to?” I myself am one of those people , at least a little bit. I don’t like to lie about how I’m doing. I guess I don’t truly get why I have to be “fine” or “great” or “ awesome” all the time. Partly it makes me feel like I’m distancing myself from others and true human connection. Partly, it makes me feel like I am truly being myself when I fully express my feelings and thoughts, naturally, and so of course I’m going to be open about what’s going on in my life. If I’m being real and vulnerable with others, then I feel like I’m opening up the opportunity for a real connection and a real conversation. Something beyond talking about the weather and other small talk.
As most Americans do though, when asked how we’re doing, most people say they’re “fine” or “great” even if they have been dealing with a lot of mental health issues. There’s a certain layer of positivity that's added to any conversation like this. “How was your weekend?” “ Really good! And yours?” when in reality their weekend was mediocre at best. “What did you do this weekend?” in this case, even with the most stark negatives, it feels awkward and slightly socially deviant to not focus on the positives of one’s weekend.
Again, I personally try to remain rather open, but I often fall to social conventions like anybody in some way. If I’m not saying my day was “awesome!”, I am opening up about something but I still put a positive spin on the situation; “...but I know things will work out and I just need to get more sleep…” and this and that which, I guess, helps me give myself good advice -- the positive spins often include stuff that is actually helpful to my problem-- but also makes me feel like I’m hiding myself from others. Unfortunately, when I do stay completely open, it catches people off guard most of the time; they don’t know what to say.
Even though it’s not weird to be dealing with mental illness, there are times when people just don’t know how to deal with a large amount of openness, at least people I know. To a certain degree I think it’s just that people are often so used to the pattern of “how are you doing?”, “great! how are you?” that when someone breaks the pattern it catches them off guard and they don’t know what to say. That being said if someone consciously prepares to talk about these things it isn’t much of a problem. Telling everyone your problems on the way to a casual hang out or party is more likely to produce an awkward silence whereas a one-on-one talk that is preceded by a “hey, I’ve been having a rough time recently, can we talk at one point” is more likely to produce a better response and a healing conversation.
Despite mental health being less of a taboo for our generation, a lot of mental disorder young individuals don’t want to draw attention to themselves or repulse others with something as intense as the truth of how they’re feeling. This could still because from our fake smiled social customs, or it could just be a genuine discomfort with the attention and potential rejection that comes with being completely honest about how we’re doing. Plus, often times one’s thoughts and feelings are already overwhelming and chaotic in one’s head, so it can be difficult to communicate it well to others.
At the end of the day, though I know at least with my friend group can and will be there for each other and use that knowledge of people’s varying levels of openness to inform how we treat each other. And no matter how open or not they are about mental health it is still recognized as a very real struggle and without question they are there to help a friend. In general, as I’ve found no matter how open one is, you can find the right people to talk to about mental health and your own problems
About the Author: Andrew M. Essig
Rather new to Vienna, Andrew has been getting involved in the social scene: going to clubs, concerts, making friends with Vienna’s artistic youth, and attending any sort of festival that he can afford! When not with others, he can be found pondering modern art exhibits or wandering around in nature.
Being an intern in another country is teaching Andrew to find balance in his life, taking care of himself and operating as a fully functional adult, while still getting the most out of Vienna. When he goes back home to the U.S. he hopes to bring with him the lessons he learned in U!Shine Vienna as he gets further in his psychology studies in University. For now Andrew looks on his past experiences with mental and emotional health as well as his comprehensive knowledge on the subject to connect with others and help them find the tools within themselves to build a more balanced and healthy life.