“The research shows we all want it. We all need it. So do your bit to help someone belong by starting a conversation today to make a difference.” – R U OK Day
How many of us feel that they actually belong within their family, friendship group and workplace? Do you feel connected with these people or do you feel like you’re an outsider? What is it to truly belong?
Belonging is defined as being the idea of being part of something where you are accepted.
In the last two years since my major depressive episode, hospitalistion and treatment I have felt anything but belonging or being accepted. A lot of the time I feel disconnected, isolated and very much the outsider looking in on everyone from the boundaries. I don’t blame depression, but I certainly know it has made a huge difference in me and they way I no longer fit within society. I am sure many reading this and many more with depression feel this way at some point in their life. Its not because we are bad people, or people that nobody wants to know it is what having a mental illness does to us.
The stigma attached to depression and the discrimination and bullying that I have faced because I have depression has instilled in me a fear to be social, a fear to talk about myself openly, and my inability to be apart of the communities around me. I talked about my disconnection with the people I work with in , this also extends into my personal life where I no longer feel like I have a friendship group. I feel like everywhere I go I have this terribly dark cloud that hangs over me isolating me from those around me, a gag over my mouth so I cannot talk and a sign on my forehead telling people to stay away from me. Stigma has done that to me. Stigma has also driven those who use to be around me more distant that they have ever been before.
Being in a new work environment my biggest challenge has been trying to talk to people and get to know them. I can honestly say that I do not know anything about any of the people I work with apart from what I over hear or observe. In meetings, even though they are for work and not personal, I find it hard to talk and I find myself not being able to make eye contact. I never use to be like this, I use to be the one always asking questions, discussing and conversing on whatever topic I was meeting about. Now I rarely say anything and when I do I overanalyse everything I have said for the next 24 – 48 hours, which in turn puts me further and further into my shell.
I rarely see the friends I have had for many years and when I do I find it really hard to talk about anything, I find myself drifting off and wishing they weren’t there because I can’t talk to them anyway. In the back of my mind I am always worried I will say the wrong thing and my mood isn’t what they want to be around. I also find that I don’t really belong within the friendship groups I was once apart of and trying to get back into those groups has been impossible for me for two reasons, one being that I can’t initiate social interaction because I fear it, and two, I find people avoiding me and getting close to me and I am pretty sure its because of what I have been through and them not wanting to get close to ‘IT’.
How can you go through what I and many others do and still belong? Who really initates a conversation with someone who is potentially not okay? Its not like where in the school yard at school and we play together and then we are friends. Life with a mental illness brings with it loneliness, isolation and stigma that holds people back from you. We are not to blame for stigma, the people that fear mental illness or don’t recognize it for what it is and does to people do that, but in some ways we are responsible for our acceptance into society. It is easy to recognize our flaws like that but not so easy to fix. Not when your mood affects everything you do, not when people don’t want to be around you because you are always depressed, not when your social anxiety has become so great that to be around people is beyond you and talking to people is just impossible.
I don’t know how to belong or how to feel and be accepted again, maybe I have changed so much that nobody wants to know me and those that have no longer want me in their lives. It happens I guess at some point we do grow away from people, unfortunately for some it happens to most of the people in our lives.