Recently I had a conversation with someone who described herself as ‘a bit of a worrier’, someone who, in their own words, has always been a worrier. As we talked, it became apparent that really, we were talking about something more than worrying, something more debilitating. Worry was the code word, a way to let those in the know, know that it was a bigger issue than the word ‘worry’ made it seem. I was in, allowed to hear beyond the code word, like a secret handshake, or a wink. You get the picture. It made me think about how, in our culture, we often use euphemism as a way of making what we want to say more acceptable to hear, and that can be especially true when it comes to our mental wellbeing. ‘I feel fed up’ can mean ‘I feel really bleak and hopeless’, and ‘I really didn’t want to get out of bed today’ can mean ‘I feel really low and can’t find the motivation to do anything’.(It can also mean ‘I just want a lie in…’ but, let’s go with it.) And ‘I’m a bit of a worrier’ is ‘I’m so anxious I shake at the thought of all I’m facing’. I know that we can be the kings and queens of the understatement, that we frequently swallow our truth telling urge to be polite, but when it comes to mental health it can mean the difference between getting help and not, between clinging onto being well and tumbling headfirst into illness, even between life and death. If you think that’s an overstatement to get your attention, the statistics around those who take their own life make pretty sobering reading. ‘I’m a bit of a worrier’ is the acceptable face of all this darkness and more, it’s the pasted-on smile, it’s the door closed on hope. ‘I’m a bit of a worrier’ is the understatement to end all understatements. And that is not at all an overstatement.
Let’s try something new, something we may want to call speaking the truth, or being more honest, or taking a chance on those we speak to because, after all, they’re human too. We all know what it is to face hard times, but we might not all know what it is to worry, which as we now know is code for ‘when something difficult and beyond my control comes, I can’t see anything but the least positive outcome. And this makes me anxious, it makes my heart race, I can’t sleep, I don’t want to face another day.’ Although some of those who listen to us may be able to read between the lines, to notice the pleading behind the words, others may not. They don’t know how to break the code, no-one’s ever given them the password, taught them the handshake. So, it’s up to us to translate, by which I mean be honest. Say how we really feel. Fill in the gaps before everything is gaps, endless silence, with no one to hear. It is possible to do this, to speak the truth even if it feels like we’re stepping over the edge. Try it, please, because as with all things in life the first time is the worst, and with practice it becomes easier, as natural as breathing in and out.
Breathe deeply, and speak. Speak how you feel, speak it all. And when you think you’re done, speak some more. Because the throne of understatement isn’t meant to be occupied by those who could really do with fully stating, with hearing their voice release the thoughts they’ve held captive in their heads for too long.
Breathe in and out.
Step over the edge.
You won’t fall.