Is a certain little birdie telling everybody about your mental health issues? Here’s how I kicked that birdie to the curb.
by Grant J Everett
Even though we’re at a point where the general population knows more about the realities of mental health issues than at any other time in history, these conditions can still be scary and confusing to many people. And while disclosing any details of your personal health information is entirely up to the individual, there can be many poor habits and mannerisms that may reveal a lot more than we intend. Some of these things fall under the classification of “negative symptoms,” which is what you call it when a mental health issue removes something from a person, such as their drive to maintain good hygiene, or not being able to communicate as well as they used to.
Before we go any further, please note that I know about negative symptoms firsthand: when my illness was at its most disabling, my self-care and social skills both suffered greatly. At my very worst I’d go days without showering or brushing my teeth, and I’d wear the same clothes for a solid week without an ounce of shame. I’d also walk around with my mouth hanging open like I was trying to catch flies, and muttering and laughing to myself. Suffice to say, I wasn’t doing myself any favours. Far be it for me to preach about how people should act, but I found that my negative symptoms were really getting in the way of a lot of important stuff, such as how people perceived me, my attempts at starting a career, and how quickly I got out of hospital, too.
It’s worth noting that we humans have great trouble smelling our own body odour, or being able to tell if our clothes and bedding reek. This means you can’t rely on a “sniff test” to see if you pong.
All I’m trying to accomplish with this article is for our readers to ask: “Am I doing anything that’s holding me back from the life I want?”
HYGIENE: THE VALUE OF A TUB AND A SCRUB
It’s one of the most elementary of facts: no matter who you are, your hygiene and your appearance both need daily maintenance. Unfortunately, a person’s drive to maintain their hygiene can be profoundly affected by conditions like schizophrenia and depression, and an overall loss of motivation (known as apathy) is a common symptom for both of these issues. Bad hygiene can be an immediate giveaway that somebody is struggling; in fact, one of the signs that mental health professionals will often look for in diagnosing a psychiatric condition is whether somebody’s level of self-care has suddenly decreased. This doesn’t mean that wearing a creased shirt and having a three-day growth is a sign of schizophrenia! However, a sloppy appearance can hint that something isn’t right.
Before we go on, I have to harp on the point that even if nobody says anything, people will definitely notice it if you don’t shower or brush your teeth every day, and this can create obstacles in every area of life. Sure, they say “never judge a book by its cover.” You’ve heard it a hundred times! However, potential employers, real estate agents and possible love interests will have trouble seeing beyond black teeth and a bad smell, especially if the competition is neat and clean instead.
My job involves interacting with other people, so I class my ability to communicate and being able to appear on-the-ball as essential. This is especially true when I have to meet anyone I don’t know all that well in a professional setting, or if I attend a meeting where I need to take an active role in the proceedings. It can honestly be a bit of a strain, sure, but I’ve spent years learning how to make an excellent impression, and it’s actually reached the point where people are usually quite surprised if I tell them that I have schizophrenia!
A big part of my recovery was identifying certain negative mannerisms that were holding me back. However, these little quirks had become really ingrained after doing them for years and years. It took some effort to stop doing them, sure, but ditching these bad habits has helped me in my objective of giving the best impression I can, and that’s been a precious gift in many areas of my life.
I honestly believe that working on the three following things has played a huge role in allowing me to live the life that I want.
BODY LANGUAGE: I try to maintain good posture. I stand up straight, I look ahead rather than at my feet, and I keep my hands out of my pockets. I also never walk around with my mouth hanging open.
EYE CONTACT: Eye contact is good. However, I try not to stare at people for longer than a couple of seconds at a time unless I’m talking to them, ESPECIALLY if I don’t know the person all that well. Giving somebody the hundred-yard-stare can freak them out, and some may even take it as a challenge.
INTERNALISING: I tend to think out loud at times if I’m alone, but I’m well aware that muttering and laughing under my breath can freak people out…so I don’t do it.
Now that I’ve gone into great depth about the things that I’ve worked on in order to inch closer the person I want to be, can you think of any bad habits that you’d like to kick? Can you identify any ways that you may be holding yourself back?