Don’t ‘Fake It Until You Make It’

By F Sidd

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Author: Christophe Bitton ; The Downward Spiral

Looking back I never really could have imagined going through what I went through this past year. I was, as they would say on the whole a ‘generally happy, positive and bubbly person’ who seemed to have a great life. This was very true — I have amazing friends and family, go to a brilliant university and seem to be doing okay in life. However, one thing I’ve come to learn is that none of that really matters; appearances can be deceiving. Everyone may look at your life like it’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean you have to love it. You don’t need an excuse to feel sad. I wish I had known from the start that you don’t have to ‘fake it ‘till you make it’. Just because everything in your life seems to be ‘going great’ — this doesn’t disqualify you from experiencing the feelings and emotions you do. You’re allowed to feel rather than fake it. If I had known this earlier, perhaps I wouldn’t have spiralled further down the black hole I was in.

At the beginning of my second year at university I saw myself fall into a bad place. I no longer wanted to get out of bed in the morning. Attending lectures, classes and meeting people was the last thing I wanted to do; actually, the thought made me want to crawl back into bed. Which I would. On too many days I would switch on my phone to messages along the lines of: “Hey…you coming in today?” and missed calls, my friends having become used to my absence and recurrent cancellations. I would go through every possible reason I could think of as to why I didn’t need to go in. I could watch the lecture later when it got uploaded (I never did), or just get someone else to send me the notes, it was just one class after all. Eventually, one missed class turned into two, and another day at home made me all too reluctant to go in the next day. I’d churn out the usual, “Oh I’ve got a lot on at work”, or “Just got a lot of deadlines”. It seemed the easiest thing to say, much easier than saying: “Actually, just not feeling okay at the moment.”

For most of the term I would force myself in, show my face at events and make time to spend with people in the hope that this would allow me to escape from what I can only describe as an empty and lonely place that I was unable to articulate to anyone. I can’t lie, not every day was bad. Some days on my way home, I’d sit on the train and think to myself, “Was I just stressed and confused? I feel okay!” and return to my happy, positive and bubbly self. But all too quickly the feeling of sadness and loneliness would hit me again, out of nowhere. “I’m just tired”, didn’t mean I’d had no sleep last night, but rather it meant I’d slept till 12, managed to get to my one o’clock lecture at uni but still felt like I needed more sleep.

It took me a long time to understand what I was going through and what I was feeling, hesitant to give myself any labels. But it became increasingly apparent that I was not just ‘stressed’, rather I wasn’t okay — and hadn’t been for a while. I’d go to university, a huge smile on my face joking and laughing with my friends, sharing in our disdain about our lecturer or class teacher. No one would have a clue, because this is what I felt I had to do to appear “normal” and “coping” in an environment and society where struggling is a sign of weakness. What did I, compared to everyone else, have to worry about? I was an active member of a society, studying a degree I loved, and had a great circle of friends, as well as a new part time job which I was enjoying. On the outside I was doing just fine, I wore the mask well. But as soon as other people disappeared and I was left to my own devices, the doubts creept back into my mind. The thoughts that I was “useless” and “no good” never seemed to leave. I only felt more alone, as the mask I had worn for so long became all too familiar an accessory in my everyday life.

I used to often ask what it meant when one said that people are defined by their struggles, more specifically mental health struggles. I think I’ve begun to understand this. People can be defined by their struggles insofar as it focuses on the type of qualities they demonstrate in trying to overcome this struggle of theirs. Seeking help and recognising a mental health issue to me is strength. It’s courage. I say this coming from a community and background where such issues are swept under the carpet, not spoken about and potentially have the ability to ruin one’s reputation. So wearing the ‘mask’ isn’t a choice, it’s the only option some of us have. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to tell some friends that I’ve been battling with anxiety and depression in the last year, reassuring them that “I’m fine most of the time… it’s just some days aren’t great.” I was scared of people’s perception of me changing, of stereotypes shaping the way they now perceived me — negative, dull, boring (the list could go on). I overheard someone commenting about another girl getting married, “Look at her, she has anxiety but she still managed to marry a great guy!”. People ask why those suffering don’t seek help. It’s because of ignorant comments on mental health like this that we don’t reach out. So, for me, in facing such stigma and judgement, your battle signifies immense courage and resilience in understanding that putting yourself first is far more important than being overly concerned with perceptions of you that arise as a result. Of course this is much easier said than done — we’re all sensitive to how we’re perceived by others and have a fear of being judged.

So I guess my message is twofold: both to those who are struggling; and also to those who find someone close to them affected. To the first group I want to tell you to that no one can invalidate how you feel, try not to lose your self-worth and belief in yourself as I know it is all too easy to do. Rather, believe that the people close to you love you and will want to support you in getting better. Don’t think you have to continue to wear a mask day in day out, pretending and trying to make yourself believe you’re okay — you don’t have to do that. To the latter group, if someone you know is suffering, you can help them more than you think. Whilst no one expects you to totally understand how they’re feeling, just being there as a support in any way you can, being non-judgemental and taking the time to just listen to how they feel honestly goes a long way towards making that person feel less alone and isolated. I can’t thank enough the few people I have confided in this year, for just being there, whether it’s simply a hug and a smile to reassure me it’s going to be okay, or understanding when I cancel on them or change my mind — it means the world.

You don’t have to ‘fake it until you make it’. I honestly hate that phrase so much. Yes, sometimes getting out of the house and hanging out with friends can help get things off your mind for a bit, but this isn’t a long term solution. In all honesty it took me forever to write this piece, debating whether it’s worth sharing my story, But then I remember — it is. There are too many people out there, struggling alone with no support and I want them to know that you don’t have to face the dark times without someone next to you. That you can ask for help, and that it’s okay to need it. You don’t have to ‘fake it to make it’.