duck on pond photoMy first blog post on The Stigma Rebellion last week garnered a little attention. If you read it, I thank you. I was interviewed on the radio about it, I received lots of messages from peers and colleagues, and quite a few people shared it around social media. You might say it struck a chord. Why? I spoke about the pressure we all feel sometimes to maintain our game face instead of letting our guard down and asking for help. I spoke about the stigma that surrounds mental health and help-seeking. Especially for professionals.

Too afraid or embarrassed to ask for help

I was surprised and humbled to have several mental health professionals approach me this week, thanking me for writing that blog. Some of them had a history of mental illness themselves, some of them are leaders and agreed that they too feel the pressure to “keep it all together”. They all agreed that we need to speak more openly and more often about it being okay to be vulnerable, to need help sometimes.

Whether you suffer from anxiety and don’t want to let on to your partner, or you’re a doctor with depression not wanting to look incompetent to your patients; it doesn’t matter. Or at least it shouldn’t. Be vulnerable. Be human. Be a #StigmaRebel. We each stand to gain when we all role model appropriate help-seeking and normal human frailties.

So what does this have to do with ducks?

I’m glad you asked. You know those people who just glide through life? The ones who are always on time and always well groomed. The ones who always make a healthy lunch box for their kids AND their kids actually eat it. The ones who never forget a birthday, never lose their temper, never let dishes pile up in the sink. The ones who have holidays and a nice CLEAN car. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones who have a charmed life. The ones who have it easy. You know? Them. Not us.

But hang on a minute. Are you sure this is how their lives are ALL the time? Are you sure they NEVER drop their bundle? When I’m working with clients in my psychology practice, I hear similar comparisons from them. It usually goes something like this:  “Why can’t I be more like the other mums?” or “Why does everyone else cope so much better than I do?” … Ring a bell?

What’s going on below the surface?

I ask my clients, when they’re feeling like this, to imagine the duck on the millpond. The water is glasslike, smooth, perfectly reflecting the clear blue sky. There’s only the slightest breeze. The duck’s feathers are unruffled, glistening in the sun. The duck glides effortlessly across the water of the pond, without a care in the world. We wish we were that duck, we wish we had it that easy. But we don’t see his little cold and wrinkly webbed feet paddling madly below the surface, working furiously to keep himself afloat.

The same is true of the people we assume have it easy. We’re only seeing them at surface level, like the duck. We have no clue what is going on for them below the surface, how hard they have to work just to keep it all together. And that, dear friends, is my message to you. Don’t let the surface glamour dazzle you. Don’t judge yourself negatively against the assumptions you’ve made about others.

And another thing about ducks that you should know

I know what you’re thinking. “I’ll just get this one thing in my life sorted out and then I’ll be okay“; “I’ll just wait until this stressful project at work is over, and then I’ll take a break“;  “I’ll just wait until I’ve got my ducks in a row, and then I’ll seek some help“. You know the answer to this, don’t you? You know what I’m going to say, right? Those ducks will never get in a bloody row. Stop waiting. Stop saying “one day“. If you need help, get it now. If you’re not coping, tell someone now. If your life is being put on hold until “one day”, hit the play button. You have one life. Just. One.

Go for gold, don’t let doubts, negative comparisons against others, or a battered self-esteem stop you.

Be a Stigma Rebel. I dare you.

Photo by njyoung14