Whatever you are doing right now, humour me for a second…..please? Take a look around you, what do you see, what do you notice? Now look again, what didn’t even hit your radar first time round? Modern technological developments mean that there are fewer places for us to hide “Big Brother is watching you1,” wrote George Orwell in ‘1984.’ And yet, in a world under constant surveillance, how much of a person’s true self do we ever see? ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ the English idiom teaches us but we live in a culture obsessed with leaping to a judgement before we can have any way of knowing all the facts. How often has leaping to a conclusion based on overhearing just a snippet of a conversation ended well? In court, a case would be thrown out for having insufficient evidence, so how has it become such an integrated part of everyday life?
Remember that look around I asked you to take just a moment ago, what judgements did you make about the people you saw, the buildings around you, the events you briefly noticed taking place around you? How many instant judgements did you make about lifestyle, personality and culture without even thinking about it? I’ll let you into a secret. Every one of us will answer yes to at least one of those questions because we are human.
Making a snap judgement is simple, often done without us even thinking about it but the truth is that we learn very little about who someone really is from that quick glance we stole a moment ago. A person’s true self is a special, precious entity. It’s the most vulnerable part of a person’s soul and once damaged can sometimes be beyond repair. Modern misconceptions can often mean that people shy away from talking about mental health; perhaps they even fear it. What the world has yet to realise it that it is this very fear and avoidance that can deepen the wounds of a person’s soul perhaps even making them feel like an outsider, always looking in and never truly belonging. The world has forgotten the teachings of great philosophers like Plato who taught that we should “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
How the world views your true self is, in my opinion, something you have limited control over. Ultimately it is beyond our power, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise, to force someone to look beyond a person’s exterior and allow themselves to see your true self without holding onto prejudices. It takes a special kind of person to accept and maybe even love us for who we are; that special person is unfortunately a rare breed in the modern world.
A wise man once taught me that we should only attempt to control that which is in our power to influence. In this instance, the step we can take to help the world see beyond the projection we work hard to maintain to is one of the hardest we can push ourselves to take; do we accept ourselves for who we are? For Plato, “The first and best victory ‘was’ to conquer self.” How can we honestly ask others to love and accept our true self if we reject it?
How does this relate to the brief of living with a mental health diagnosis I hearyou ask? This is probably the chance for me to point out that I have another name for my true self; I call her my invisible friend. She is always there with me, no matter what life throws at me, through the highs and the lows. My invisible friend might sit on my shoulder as I take on the rollercoaster of life, or perhaps she has dropped back a step or two for a period of time, always ensuring she keeps pace with me so that I don’t forget that she is there. The truth is that I catch myself looking over my shoulder, to check that she is there because I know that she is coming, she always does. I find myself nervously waiting for the moment when she decides to catch up with me and pull me back into the lonely darkness; just me and her trapped and alone, no way to escape.
So this blog post is my attempt to turn a new corner. It’s a scary one though because I don’t know how my invisible friend will react or what’s waiting round the corner for me but I know I need to do it. This is me, trying to take a few small steps out from the shadow of my invisible friend so that I might find the strength to face my invisible friend as just that, a friend and not an enemy to be feared. I know she’s around to stay but perhaps that doesn’t need to be a negative. It’s going to be a long journey, with ups, downs and perhaps even a few wrong turns but I think that’s ok.
I’m Kate, the swimming, yoga loving, baking mad former philosophy student and my friend? Well, sometimes she is depression but more often than not she is anxiety and severe self-doubt but always M.E. So what do you and your invisible friend have planned this weekend? Perhaps you too might decide to throw caution to the wind and walk down a path never trodden before. Don’t worry, your invisible friend will come along for the ride too, but perhaps this time you and she can walk alongside one another rather than constantly looking over your shoulder.
by Kate McCormack