An adult client of mine recently discussed her daughter’s depression with her neighbors, who said her daughter “didn’t look depressed.” A teenage client of mine was recently evaluated for medication for her anxiety. She was fine to start the medications because she was “just used to always feeling this way.” A friend of mine often uses this quote verbatim because he often feels anger but has learned to manage it. Another friend of mine has said that this quote has always resonated with her.
This quote, to me, encapsulates a lot about mental health. It also opens up a discussion about why addressing mental health is important.
Let’s get into it, shall we…
Mental health struggles are often invisible – they aren’t something we can see as soon as we look at someone. In fact, struggles are often not discovered until having a vulnerable discussion or a long relationship with someone. We hear often that our struggles should not impact our lives, so we are not very open to sharing.
Even after we know the label or classification of someone’s struggle, every person is different. Sure, there are symptoms and typical behaviors of every disorder and illness, but those symptoms can manifest differently from person to person. One person’s really good day could be someone’s worst, and one person’s perception of “normal” could be incredibly different from the person sitting beside them.
This quote is perfect to illustrate the complexities of the lengths to which people go to cope. People who have depression don’t stay in bed all day every day – that’s not an option. People with anxiety don’t bounce off the walls all day every day – that’s not an option. People who have substance use habits aren’t carrying around their substance of choice all day every day – that’s not an option. People who have difficulties with anger don’t punch walls all day every day – that’s not an option.
Instead, everyone learns to work around it or push through it. They figure out how to live within the structure of their lives. Maybe it’s medication, maybe it’s therapy, maybe it’s adding coping skills. Or maybe, they just experience their struggle all the time. They white knuckle it. Maybe their secret is that they’re always angry or sad or anxious or craving a substance. They wear a mask – they maintain their Bruce Banner form because that is what they are taught to do. They only become the Hulk when the situation appears to demand it or when the idea of maintaining Bruce Banner becomes too difficult. This mask-wearing habit is often so engrained that the idea of managing or changing that can be scary. Feeling exhausted and feeling unhappy becomes the norm and the idea of changing that, even if there is potential it means improvement, can be challenging.
What does this say about our approach to mental health? It’s the secret part that is the problem. As Tony Stark tells Bruce Banner, “You’re tiptoeing, big man. You need to strut.”
This isn’t me saying that struggles give us permission to stop our lives – this is me saying to strut into therapy and seek help. It is me saying strut to someone close to you to ask for help. It is me saying strut to your doctor to discuss medication if you think that will help. It shouldn’t feel like a shameful secret to have mental health struggles. It shouldn’t feel like you need to hide it or that you bottle it all up to release like a Hulk. Instead, the struggles should be something we learn to cope with. They should be understood and managed in an effective way.