How many times have you written a message to a friend, and deleted it? Or started a conversation with your family, then held back at the crucial point, and brushed it off. ‘I’m fine.’ or ‘I’m ok.’ or ‘I don’t want to bore you with my story.’ How many times have you asked someone how they are, to find you know they aren’t being entirely truthful with their answer?
We will all often try to hide the parts of ourselves that aren’t perfect, to protect ourselves as well as others. Whilst this can often feel like pretending to be someone you're not is the right thing to do at the time, in the long term, it’s not doing your wellbeing any favors. It can also contribute to creating unhealthy norms for society as a whole!
With vital conversations around mental health now being had, many of us might now recognize it is ok, to not be ok. That doesn't mean you should keep it bottled in.
Talking is hard. But talking about mental health is one of the most important things we can do to help people to feel more empowered when seeking support. In order to stop the stigma, we need to make it a public conversation where no one is afraid to speak out.
Being unapologetically honest with how we feel and who we are puts us at the center of the conversation. If we all acted like that, it would be harder for society to ignore this issue.
How to be yourself and stop pretending
Why not take a moment to ask yourself why you don't already speak up about what’s hurting you? Why do you protect others from your problems but not yourself? Is it because you don’t feel like talking would help? Or because you are scared of the response you may get? Do you feel you have to portray yourself in a certain way?
These questions may feel uncomfortable at first, but without them, you may be stopping your own growth. It is such a cliché to say ‘You only have one life’ but it is true! Pretending to be someone you're not will simply prevent you from living a fulfilling life.
Whilst it takes time to become a more authentic person, the benefits are immeasurable. You may still have mental health problems, and you may still feel pain, but at least you won’t be exhausted from keeping up the pretense every single day.
You might be asking yourself who you should be honest with and where to practice being yourself. Where exactly does one "stop pretending" to be ok? Starting these conversations can be challenging!
1. Be honest with yourself
Start with you. You will never be able to tell the world how you feel if you don’t know yourself. Sit down, take a deep breath, and see how you really are.
If no one was watching you, would you still have that smile on your face? It’s ok if you say no. The most important thing is knowing what’s really going on inside you. Then you can start to heal.
2. Find an accepting community
TalkLife is a great place to go once you’ve spoken with yourself. The community can connect you with people from all around the world being honest about the tough stuff and may give you the courage to do the same.
It's a place where you can be anonymous, making it easier to be yourself, and with its peer-to-peer support, you can help others, which in turn may help you!
3. Be real with friends and family
Talking to friends and family is another good place to get started. Check in with your friends, ask them how they are, then ask again! Really show you care. If they trust you enough to share how they truly feel, listen. Be open to what they have to say.
Being on this side of the discussion might show you how it is not so burdensome to be asked to help with a friend's problem. If you can have a conversation in the comfort of your own home, then that paves the way for you to speak out in the wider world.
4. Show your true self at school, university, or work
Unfortunately, mental health does not leave us alone when we go to work, or to places of study. Getting your voice heard in those places can feel especially difficult.
You might feel shy, not wanting to make a fuss, or perhaps not wanting people to know at all. However, these are the places where it is most important to be having those conversations so that things can change.
Ask difficult questions and tell people how you feel! The change starts with you. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, because there will never be one. Rip off the plaster, and get talking!
5. Stop pretending on social media
Social media is the biggest influencer of all. When a conversation starts on Twitter, TikTok, or Instagram, it encourages the whole world to jump in and have their say.
Using your platform to speak is a great tool to raise awareness, as well as make others feel less alone. You can stop pretending to be ok all the time! In this world of social media ‘perfection’, creating a sense of community, and reducing isolation are key factors in helping mental health for all.
It doesn’t matter if your story can’t fix their problems. Giving people voices, and showing other people have experienced their pain is enough.
There are lots of platforms and places to go to when you feel able to talk. Do not feel silenced because you do not feel like people will be able to listen or help. Be the catalyst that starts the conversation.
Mental health problems happen to people every day. Stop the fake smiling, stop pretending that nothing in the world could be the matter! The change starts with you! Be that change and start talking! You’ve got this!