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[ass] u (me)
I wanted to write 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 we 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 use these assumptions to understand our every day world. We even apply these to people and these are kind of where stereotypes come from. 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.
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 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 a lot of weird assumptions being made about 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.
The worst assumptions that are made about me are the ones that undermine my journey. I wrote a blog for CAMH a few weeks ago, and I was pretty happy with it. Then 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 then 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 because he took one look at me, 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 worse 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 staring 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 mattered. I resisted the urge to point out his many flaws in not only me, but the opinions shared in Bell’s Let’s Talk day and CAMH initiatives. But then 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, that he was intent on being angry, but did not offer a solution other than we need to do something. We do need to do something, and we are 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.
In the end, we all face these 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 responsible for changing that. 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. 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 try and treat each person as a blank slate. As someone who tweeted something assumption based to Canada AM this morning (and got a reply), I know it’s not that easy. But all we can do is try.
Alicia is a mindyourmind volunteer and public speaker. Because the whole cat whisper thing didn't work out. She loves to write, speak and just finished her undergrad at uwaterloo. One of Bell Let's Talk campaign's Faces of Mental Illness, Alicia works to reduce stigma and open up the conversation on mental health. Read more of her blogs on Mental Health Superhero.
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