What’s Behind Your Smile?

Cliché as it might sound, this picture my friend drew speaks more than the million words I write. A generous gift he gave me, to support my work in BEARAPY, and to mark World Mental Health Day, now almost 2 months ago. Does anyone remember why this day is so important?

Behind my smile…

Similar to many, I used to put up this “professional” mask — and got reprimanded for when I express any anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, or doubt (still get this actually). One must be seen to be successful, occasionally humble bragging with being too busy, thereby inferring one’s indispensability to the world. One must also be seen as having their shit together, on top of things, and still able to juggle crying babies, look impeccably manicured, plastered with a loving smile.

Such expectations burden us. Such perceived expectations overwhelm us. Such self-induced pressure can break us.

I broke. I defragmented. I regrouped.

It is not to say that after my life changing experience in 2010 of what depression meant firsthand that I am immune from it forever. I go into these spirals too and question what I do, especially when 80% of what I do does not get me paid. The only impetus is that perhaps through my work, somehow, somewhere, someone, finds solace and help, and another breakdown could prevented.

It gets complicated in the workplace, and I do wonder how we can build this topic into organizational culture instead of only being a pass time discussion over lunch. The theme for World Mental Health Day 2017 is Mental Health in the Workplace. Reports by World Health Organization & World Economic Forum show the humungous cost of USD6 trillion due to mental health issues at work, and that with every USD1 invested into workplace mental health reaps a return of USD4. We all know that this topic is important. It can save lives.

Indeed, there is no shortage of Employee Assistance Programmes, and yet the usage rate is very low. The is no lack of stress management courses or free yoga classes on free offering, and yet people still sink into burnout. So where is the disconnect?

Stigma, we say. Blame it on the taboos.

I say, let’s take it upon ourselves to start changing the attitude.

What are you hiding behind the answer, “I’m Fine”?

I wonder, can we at least talk about how we feel? Can we start by identifying, simply to ourselves, how we feel, and not be limited by the vocabulary of positive psychology? Can we stop suppressing how we feel for the sake of being “professional” or “grownup”?

Talking about how we feel, is the first step to being able to talk about more vulnerable issues as depression and anxiety, and was the thinking behind the Bearapy online campaign earlier in April. As is the thinking behind some of the work of BEARAPY in workspace personalization, inner playfulness, and being able to see ourselves at a distance through our catheted objects.

Where do we draw the line between what is acceptable or not? An endless debate, but I do advocate at least being able to identify our emotions for ourselves, finding the few friends in whom we could confide without judgment, and relieving ourselves of the pressure to be super perfect simply to show the world our smiles when we are agonizing inside. If you do not believe me, then maybe you would believe these entrepreneurs’ advice for how to stay sane in their work environment in this Forbes article, written by yours truly.

It is not difficult to “like” this article, nor say “yes we need to talk more about this”. My challenge to you, what can YOU do to help?

Babies are still crying. My nails are all chipped. I have a to-do list that I created for myself that is 3000 kilometers long. I am scared shitless about the first ever BEARAPY exhibition this Sunday, doing a presentation in public in Mandarin. I am nervous about how the bank account is dwindling. I am worried people do not like me and I will not be invited to work on programmes. I am wearing pjs with holes in them and hair un-coiffured as I write this blog post. I feel a sense of loss as I remember old connections that have fizzled out. And I have no idea how my present relationships will sustain the test of time.

Don’t just do it on some random day marked by some global movement, let us find some courage to be vulnerable, EVERYDAY.

Thank you, Victor, for putting my thoughts into a picture that speaks a thousand words.

Originally published at nochnoch.com on October 10, 2017.

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