“Aw cheer up!”
I have a question for you all. When, in the history of human interaction, has the phrase “cheer up” ever actually resulted in someone feeling more cheered than they were previously?
My guess is never.
I have suffered with anxiety my whole life in one way or another, but didn’t actually have it diagnosed until I was an adult.
There were certain occasions during my childhood where I really struggled with anxiety, although didn’t realise it at the time. Anxiety can cause me to be very quiet, jumpy, irritable, sensitive and tearful. Of course, when you’re 12 years old and going through this, everyone just thinks you’re becoming a grumpy teenager, which leads to friends or family members making jokey comments or reverting to that age-old phrase – “cheer up!”
As I didn’t understand the feelings I was having or what I was going through, I just fed off of what people were telling me and assumed that I was just a grumpy person and that I should work on my personality, or force myself to have a more sunny disposition.
I genuinely made this my New Year’s resolution when I was 12 for that very reason.
Looking back now, this makes me so sad. Mental health is often overlooked, misunderstood and brushed over, for fear of talking about the uncomfortable or the unknown. It’s hard enough being an adult and going through these things, let alone an impressionable and confused child who is merely being told to cheer up, as if he or she has a choice in the matter.
Anxiety recently popped by for another visit (such a loyal friend), and took me by surprise, as it tends to do. As I am usually a very bouncy, bubbly person, people find it very disconcerting when I’m suddenly not my usually bright and cheery self. I’ve been labelled “moody”, and poked fun at for my inability to hide my feelings.
I don’t mind being teased for my transparent disposition – it’s actually something I like about myself. I do, however, feel a little miffed at being called “moody” or some other similarly derogatory label, which I personally don’t feel belongs to me.
I respect that, as someone who has experienced issues with mental health and knows several people who have suffered with various mental health problems, I am a lot more sensitive to people’s feelings than others might be. I try to remind myself that people who joke about these things are obviously extremely blessed to have never been through anything like it themselves.
(However, there are also times when I want to tell a person to shut the f&%k up and think before they speak. I usually refrain from actioning these thoughts though!)
I felt compelled to write this post after a discussion on the topic with my beautiful and insightful friend, Lara, who is always on my wavelength with these types of things. It made me realise that there are probably a lot of people out there who have experienced a lack of understanding from those closest to them and even more likely to have heard the classic “cheer up” pep talk that people always end up reverting to.
So next time you see someone who seems a bit down, a bit quieter than usual or a bit a stressed out, a nice thing to do might be to ask how they are or offer them a cup of tea. I’m afraid “cheer up” just isn’t going to cut it.