When 'Motivational Messages' Leave Out People With Mental Illness


The other day at work we were given a “motivational speech.” We were taught words you can say to help you “not give up,” and we were read a poem about how sometimes when bad things happen, we blame everyone but ourselves and struggle to get out of our own “mess.”

At first, I really liked it. I mean, how many people aren’t inspired by motivational speakers? If people weren’t, they wouldn’t have a job. And, to be honest, it wasn’t until the poem I began to question what I was being told; it wasn’t until the poem I started feel differently. (The poem was about how you can get yourself out of “the darkness.”)

To be fair — the poem has a point. We do need to take responsibility for our actions.

However, it also got me thinking about people who, like me, live with a mental illness. (Since I developed a chronic illness, I’ve struggled on and off with depression and anxiety.) While this post relates immensely to myself, and those with anxiety and depression in particular, I’m sure many people could relate to this post, no matter their “illness” or “disability” – whether mental or physical.

Recently, both my anxiety and depression were triggered again. I think, in part, it has largely been triggered by my return to teaching. Teaching, in itself, brings back surprisingly painful memories of those who were supposedly my friends, but abandoned me the moment I became ill — and didn’t get better when they seemed to expect me to. While my new school is exceptionally lovely, and the few people I’ve told about my illnesses are incredibly supportive, I can’t help thinking of those who were supportive in the beginning, and those who abandoned me when they decided me being ill was “too much drama.”

Those memories, which are coming back with increasing force, are certainly a part of what has recently re-triggered my depression and anxiety. I think, also, about the fact that I’ve only been back at work full-time for a few weeks, and I can already feel the significant toll it’s taking on my body, on my physical health.

No matter how much sleep I seem to get, it’s not enough.

No matter how many pain tablets I take, they don’t seem to be strong enough.

I am tired. I am so very tired.

And I am sore.

I am struggling to cope — and I’m fiercely reminded because I live with a chronic illness, there is no cure for me. I will never get better, no matter how hard I wish. I will have good days and bad days and that will be my life – counting how many “spoons” I have and what potential I have for completing each and every activity. That, in itself, doesn’t help. I want a “normal” life. (Who doesn’t? And what the hell is even “normal?”) I want not to be sick. Not to be depressed. Not to be anxious.

But we don’t always get what we want. (See? Lightening the mood with a Rolling Stones quote. ’Cause I’m awesome like that.)

Regardless, the reason why is fairly irrelevant.

Yet again, I find myself struggling with anxiety and depression; in an almost excessive, and over-bearing manner. And as the poem — the poem that was designed to motivate — was read, I realized how, in a way, this often dismisses people who live from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. How sometimes, these ideas can reinforce negative stereotypes about depression and anxiety — for example, that you can just “snap out of it” and that you can choose whether or not you are depressed.

Perhaps, given my current mental state, I read too much into the poem — but that in itself bears much consideration. How do some people with mental illnesses feel when exposed to such a suggestion? That they alone are responsible for how they feel, and therefore they alone can “snap out of it?”

While some reminders are good — we do need to take responsibility for our actions, and we do need to learn to “fix our messes” — we also must remember that advice can only work some of the time, in some situations.

Please, do not dismiss those who have depression or anxiety. It may be invisible, but it’s there. You can’t just “snap out of it.” It is not necessarily something a few tablets and a few therapy sessions can fix.

It’s not always that easy. And we need to learn to be more understanding, so others feel valid when expressing their feelings. We need to work together to abolish the stigmas that surround mental health issues.

This post originally appeared on Melodramatic Confessions of Carla Louise.

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