Growing up in a small town meant that there were a lot of things that weren’t talked about, a lot of things that “didn’t exist.” In fact I didn’t meet anyone who was not of Caucasian decent until I entered high school, and even then it was exchange students and not families who lived in my small town. I also didn’t meet anyone who wasn’t “straight” until high school, because everyone who identified as something other than straight had to hide who they were. Mental health was something else that was hidden, something we didn’t talk about. This meant that everyone seemed to be the same, which in turn caused something that made someone different to be considered bad. This went for everything from being good at school to someone’s sexual orientation to mental health. Due to the fact it was considered bad many people didn’t talk about it, there were so many things considered to be taboo, so many things that people kept hidden as much as they could.
As I got older things began getting talked about, however most of the time this was in a negative way, things that made someone different were still considered to be bad. There were still many things that people didn’t talk about. This was not a conducive way to grow up, it didn’t help anything, in fact it made life harder. I was already hiding something and now I was going to have to hide so many other things just to make sure I fit into the cookie cutter image of my small town. Let’s start with the first lie I ever told about myself; that I wasn’t smart. I actually was pretty smart and yet I hid it from everyone because it made me different. This meant instead of celebrating my uniqueness I spent all my time and energy on hiding it. This made my biggest secret that much worse. The biggest thing I hid from all those people in my small town was my mental health.
I live with depression and a wide range of anxiety, it is something I have been living with for quite some time. In my small town this wasn’t something that happened, this wasn’t something that people talked about. This meant that finding help was difficult, which in turn meant that help wasn’t something that I looked for. This proved to be rather damaging to myself as well as the way that I viewed myself. My whole life I had grown up believing that I wasn’t good enough and not being able to talk about something that made me who I was only strengthened this thought in my head, this made both my anxiety and depression worse. It was an endless cycle, one I couldn’t seem to break out of.
Now things are different, now I am able to talk about my mental health and I am doing things to be able to help myself. I am on my road of healing and recovery. However in my small town there are so many things that aren’t talked about, so many things that are overlooked and ignored. This is such a harmful thing, and we might not realize the damage it is causing but I can assure you it is causing damage. So many children, teens and even adults are forced to move through there lives not talking about something that is so prevalent in their lives, something that makes them who they are as people. Everyone is unique, everyone has something that makes them unique and yet sometimes these are still the things we avoid talking about. Not talking about something doesn’t make it go away. In fact from my experience it makes it worse.
We need to change the way society views the differences in people, we need to change the way we view the people around us. Now I know this is something that won’t just happen over night, it’s going to take time but we have time and the more we change things the quicker it will be to change more. We need to be able to allow people to feel safe to discuss those things that make up who they are, those things that make them unique. All too much people are forced to try to fit into that cookie cutter image and that is not what people have been designed to do. People were designed to be unique, to be different.
We need to take a look at the way everyone is handling the different aspects of life, not just small towns. Even in the larger cities there are limited resources for mental health and I find that fitting in and being the same is still a large aspect of daily life. Though larger cities are better with having space for people to be unique but there is still a lot of room for improvement. People should not have to walk around afraid to be themselves, instead they should be proud of who they are. It’s such a big deal in the media right now and that’s because before now people have not been allowed to be who they are without ridicule. It’s not just adults who go through all of this it’s children and teens as well, it’s just called something different; bullying.
Why is it that everyone is so against bullying and we have many anti-bullying movements but when it comes to adults it’s not the same? Every day I see anti-bullying commercials, I read anti-bullying articles and as an Early Childhood Educator I teach children to be kind to each other and not to bully their peers. It is very rare that I see commercials about it being okay to be different as adults, that being different isn’t a bad thing. Treating someone differently just because they are different than you are is still bullying no matter what age you are and it needs to be changed. Everyone deserves to be treated the same regardless of gender, sexuality, mental illness, physical differences, disability, and difference in likes and dislikes. We need to start talking about all these things like we would talk about anything else, like you would have a conversation about what you were going to do on the weekend.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, because nothing worth it is ever easy, but it’s going to be so worth it in the end. Not everyone is going to be open to changing and that’s going to have to be okay, because everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions. However we need to start somewhere, we need to start with those people open to changing, we need to make the movement big enough that it makes an impact. It’s something so simple to start, it’s making sure it continues that is the difficult part. As human beings we all need to take a look at ourselves and how we are treating other people. Are we judging other’s based on something that makes them different? In order to get other people to start thinking about how they treat other’s we first must start with ourselves. We can’t change the world if we first don’t change ourselves.
Maybe you are already doing this, maybe you are already open minded and don’t fault people for being different. If that is the case you’re already past step one. The next step is talking about, getting information out there and stopping the stigma. Talk about those topics that have a stigma or taboo around them. Talk about mental health, talk about sexuality and gender. Let people know that it’s okay not to fit into the cookie cutter image of what is seen as “perfect” because the truth is no one is perfect but as long as people are being themselves they are the perfect version of themselves and that’s what is important. Everyone is worth it and everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, everyone deserves to have resources to help them through life.
Change starts with you and with me. We can work together to advocate, we can work together to get the word out there, we can work together to make the world a better place. Don’t fault people for being different, celebrate those differences!
Photo Credit: http://news.berkeley.edu/story_jump/poll-californians-support-health-coverage-for-mental-health/ (Taken from google images)