‘Ugh, I’m so depressed right now.’
‘If this situation doesn’t work out the way I want it to I’m going to kill myself.’
“I don’t like things messy, I’m sooo OCD.’
‘I need this new phone, I literally cannot live without it.’
‘Why are you upset right now? You were fine a second ago, you’re so bipolar.’
These are things we see and hear on a day to day basis. We’ll see it written in books, overhear people say it to their friends on the streets, and sometimes, we use these words and phrases in our own angry outbursts in order to – in our own opinions anyway- convey certain emotions we might be feeling while telling a story.
With social media, television, advertising campaigns and magazines, we are living in a world where bigger is better, where bold and brazen slogans are shoved into our faces almost every moment of every single day, and where it is becoming the norm for language to be used to shove down our throats how amazing the newest product available from the best technological company is.
The hyperbole, once a tool used in the English language to exaggerate the meaning of a sentence, has now become part of our everyday sentence structure. People aren’t just sad anymore, they’re depressed. They’re not neat and tidy, they have OCD. And, apparently, the human population diagnoses each other as psycho, in particular boys who think their girlfriends are slightly out of line or overprotective.
Although language is obviously a vital tool of the human race that allows us to express our innate thoughts and feelings to one another, and is something that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, this casual throwing around of medical terms to describe day-to-day activities and situations is damaging, in more ways than one.
First, it’s altering the way we use the English language, and it’s altering the meaning and sense of words we use. How is it that as a population, we cannot use anything but hyperboles, catastrophic terms of phrase and exaggeration to convey how we’re feeling? Do we seriously not have a sufficient amount of words in our entire vocabulary without using serious medical terms do describe our emotions?
Secondly, by using these terms flippantly, we are diluting their definition and making it increasingly challenging for those who really do suffer from these mental illness to be diagnosed, or even realise that what they are feeling and experiencing is more serious than what they may think.
Imagine feeling so down, so low that you can hardly bear to face the day ahead, and, after months and months, and in some cases it takes years, of agonising and fretting over what to do, you finally decide to tell someone about it.
‘Oh, you feel depressed? It’s okay, I get depressed all the time, if it gets worse go and see a doctor, but for now, just know you’re not the only one.’
And therein lies the problem. By not truly understanding the true meaning behind these words and just using them as commonly and as casually as curse words or adjectives, we’re belittling the rawness and the pain that comes with suffering from a mental illness.
Of course, it’s helpful to know that there are other people in the same boat as you, but when a person makes a remark like that – and don’t get me wrong, people who say these things as a friend are 9/10 times being genuinely concerned and trying help- it makes you feel like what you’re experiencing is normal, and that you’re being weak for ‘making a fuss.’
Another term that gets thrown around way too much for my liking is anxious. I have heard so so many people go on to their friends about how they ‘totally had a panic attack‘ over a minor inconvenience that happened in their day, but it’s all worked out now so yay!
That is not how panic attacks and anxiety work. Feeling nervous is not being anxious. Getting stressed out is not having a panic attack. Nervousness and worrying are normal feelings people have. You’d have to be a sociopath to go through your life without at least having some misgivings about certain situations or for things you’ve worked really hard for.
Once, I had to do a talk in front of some people about Chinese New Year in my hometown. There were important people there, though to be honest I think the teachers I had been working with had hyped the thing up too much and people were being a little bit more on edge than they had to be. It wasn’t the Queen of England we were talking to after all.
Anyway, the girl in front of me seemed a bit apprehensive before going on stage, and looked at me, saying ‘I’m having a panic attack.’ She wasn’t showing any obvious signs of actually having a panic attack, but I knew better than to tell her she wasn’t so I suggested she went to the bathroom, away from the stage, and that we would tell the teacher what was going on, everyone would understand, and someone would fill in for her, read her speech. To which she said, ‘Don’t be silly, I’m fine.’
Ummmmm, so you were not having a panic attack then?!
First, it is not okay to make a statement like that and worry people for no reason at all, no matter how harmless you think your comment is, and secondly, it is upsetting to know that people say these things without thinking, and are effectively comparing their jitteriness to the gut-churning torment that is a panic attack.
And then there’s the flip side.
Not too long ago, I worked in a place that didn’t treat their staff well. The managers were cocky and conceited, and they didn’t give a toss about giving hours to people who needed to pay rent and eat… but that’s another blog post.
Anyway, I was having a really bad morning once and I ended up having to run to the bathroom, and effectively ‘hid’ for 15 minutes, hyperventilating, shaking, worrying that I was going to throw up my lunch. When I had calmed myself down, I was terrified of having to go back out onto the restaurant floor, because I just knew I was going to get a bollocking from my manager. After all, he saw me as someone who could make him money, and having a panic attack on the bathroom floor wasn’t in the least bit useful to him.
I cleaned my face, took some deep breaths, and rehearsed what I was going to say to him when I got upstairs, promising I wouldn’t cry. I made my way up the stairs, and was met by the glare of a really ticked off manager. Before I could even get a word in edgeways about what had happened, he lay into me as if taking an unforeseen break due to my panic attack was on par with having broken into his till and taken his money.
I was given no chance to tell him my side of the story, and had to wait until the end of my shift to force him to speak to me so I explain. The response? I was given an eye roll and told to ‘let someone know’ the next time I ‘decided to get in a tizz.’
What the heck?! I could go on and on and ON about how this was not the way this situation should have been handled. Like yeah cool beans, next time I want to throw up all over you and can’t breathe, I’ll let you know before I go sort myself out. However, the sad thing is, this happens constantly. In workplaces, in schools, in universities… we don’t deal with mental health in the right way.
It’s time that we educate people on these matters, not to be able to give people with anxiety and depression a ‘free pass’ or anything, but to be able to genuinely know the ins and outs of these disorders and to be able to truly understand what people are suffering through.
Having a panic attack isn’t having a ‘tizz’, being depressed is not being ‘sad’, and eating disorders are not people ‘seeking attention’. Mental disorders eat you alive from the inside. They are all-consuming and relentless, and diluting its meaning by using it so casually is harmful to those who need help.