Why We Should Not Dismiss People for ‘Wanting Attention’

Growing up, I was very much aware of being perceived as ‘wanting attention’. And perhaps part of the reason for this was that I engaged in a lot of behaviour that could be considered ‘wanting attention’.

The first time that I remember telling a friend that I sometimes thought about ‘not being here anymore’ was when I was roughly nine years old.

The first time I remember intentionally cutting into my skin (with my nails at the time) because I was sad, angry, or frustrated was when I was ten years old.

And although I didn’t know enough to use the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ until I was eighteen years old, that was something I was dealing with through most of my teen years. It got worse around my high school graduation, but it started from as far back as I can remember.

And to a certain extent, I’m sort of glad that it did get worse when I was eighteen, because if it hadn’t, then I might never have identified that I was mentally ill. If I hadn’t, I probably would have continued going back to that old excuse, the one that I told myself all the time before then – that I just ‘wanted attention’.

This isn’t necessarily anything that anyone told me. Nobody dismissed my claims of depression with an easy wave of their hand and the words, “you teenagers, you all just want attention”, but it didn’t matter that nobody said this to me; I said it to myself daily. I said it to myself because I had heard it of other people, and I knew that if I did actually try to speak out, that was what many people would think. And if so many people would think it, then it must be true, right?

I wasn’t carving up my arm because I actually had a problem; I was doing it because I wanted someone to see and feel sorry for me. I mean, sure, I usually tried to hide the cuts from sight, and if anyone asked me about them, I’d lie, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? Clearly, I just wanted attention, and that made the fact that I was doing it silly and meaningless.

I didn’t think about ‘being gone’ because I was struggling with suicidal thoughts; I was doing it because I wanted people to treat me as special, as different. I clearly wanted them to give me an easier time and walk on egg shells around me, right? I mean, I made a point of never telling anyone that I felt this way, specifically because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, but the mere fact that I felt that way in the first place proved that I just wanted attention, right?

I didn’t feel empty, sad, and scared all the time because I was dealing with a mental illness; I felt that way because I wanted people to feel bad for me.

Right?

This is why I hate it when people dismiss the way that someone feels by saying, “oh, they just want attention”; because that is someone’s life and wellbeing that you are playing with. All that that person may need is one person to take them seriously, one person to point out to them that they way they feel is valid and it needs to be addressed, and that could be the difference between them taking their own lives or living years with depression, and them getting help for their mental illness and learning how to cope with it better. And any time that you are put in a position to say, “that just want attention”, you also have the option to listen to them and take them seriously.

And too many times, people who are actually struggling with mental illness, people like me who need to recognize what’s going on inside their head, are shrugged off and not taken seriously because we have this idea that people who are struggling are only struggling because they want attention. In fact, it is gotten so bad that some people don’t even have to be told that the way they feel isn’t valid for them to feel that way; our society has perpetuated this idea that all people (and young people in particular) who are dealing with anxiety or depression are actually selfish, needy burdens that I didn’t even have to be told that to believe it. All I had to do was feel the way that I naturally felt, and then I knew what people would think of me. And this can and has had some very dangerous consequences for that person.

But, for just a moment, let’s ignore the cases where someone who actually has a mental illness is ignored and refused help because of this stigma, because I know that most people would agree that that is a tragedy. What about the young people who are, legitimately, looking for attention? I mean, I’m sure that very few young people would go to the lengths of attempting suicide to try to get it, but I’m sure there are some who have, in fact, gone to very self-destructive lengths for it.

Why do we look down on them so much?

What is wrong with wanting attention? We all do. It is such an integral part of the human condition to want attention, to want love and acceptance and understanding, that we as a society actually have a word for it when we go for a long period of time without getting it – loneliness.

And take it from someone who spent her teenage years cutting up her arm: self-destructive behaviour is never okay. We should not encourage it, we should try not to engage in it, and if we notice someone else doing it, we should try to talk to them about it. But why is it that we say things like “oh, they just want attention”, as though that invalidates the whole act?

If they truly do “just want attention”, then they should get attention! They should get help, whether that be professional, medical help, or merely someone to sit down and talk with them.

Up until I was eighteen, when I realized that I had depression and anxiety and that the way I felt was real, it did matter, I spent most of my life thinking that the things I did were merely seeking attention, and therefore, they didn’t matter. They were my fault. was the stupid one. was wrong, and therefore, the way I felt should be kept to myself. I shouldn’t reach out. I shouldn’t try to get help. I should just suffer in silence.

And that’s what is wrong with this statement: it is just another way for society to keep people silent about what they are dealing with. It is a tool to keep us from talking about our mental illness, or about our feelings. And we need to talk. We need to open up. Because once we do, then we realize that we aren’t alone, that we aren’t at fault. Countless others have dealt with this before, and knowing that will help you to realize that you can get through this. You will be alright.

But it will be harder to realize that if you remain stuck in this cycle of silence.

So the next time that someone tries to talk to you about self-destructive or depressive thoughts, don’t dismiss what they have to say. Listen to them. You might not know exactly what to say; it might even be an awkward conversation for us to have, but it is an important conversation for us to have. It is a conversation that could, quite literally, save lives. Even if they are young, even if you are not convinced that they entirely know what they are talking about. Because once you listen to them, you might realize that they know more than you gave them credit for.

 

 

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While Life May Hurt, You Cannot Give Up

This world isn’t a perfect place. Let’s get that out of the way right now.

No matter who you are or what you believe, there is always going to be someone out there who you disagree with whole-heartedly. Always. There are going to be people out there who you can’t bring yourself to understand, whose shoes you simply cannot walk in no matter how much you try because end of day, those shoes don’t fit. And when you come across these people, you’re going to be tempted to hate them or look down on them because they are beyond your understanding.

No matter who you are or what sort of people you surround yourself with, you are going to have moments of loneliness. You might find yourself going through a period of time where there is nobody around you, and quite literally, the only person you can depend on is yourself. You might find yourself going through a period of time where there are people around you, but you do not feel at all connected to them. You feel like they don’t understand you, or like they don’t actually love or care about you. And when this happens, you are going to question yourself and your part in all this. After all, it’s only natural to wonder if you’re the problem here. Are you wrong? Unloveable? Asking too much of people? Or is it simply impossible for us as human beings to fully connect with another in the way that we all hope for?

No matter who you are or how carefully you live, you are going to get hurt. Maybe by other people, because as I mentioned previously, people aren’t perfect. Some people are so hurt from their own life that they then set out to hurt other people, to return the favour that life has dealt them. Some people simply act without thinking, and we wind up being the casualty of that carelessness. And maybe it isn’t another person who hurts us, maybe we end up hurting ourselves. Maybe we make mistakes that we can’t forgive ourselves for. Maybe we live so carefully, so guarded and safe, that we wind up missing out on opportunities, or on life itself.

And all this isn’t even mentioning all the big problems in our world that might lead us to feelings of stress or depression – things like war, poverty, racism, sexism, and so on.

But despite all of this, despite the imperfection that most certainly does exist in the world and despite the fact that you are not going to enjoy every moment spent being alive, we cannot allow ourselves to give up.

Because life is hard. Life is a battle, and it is long and bloody and difficult, but it is a battle worth fighting. Because as much as life is hard, it is also the most brilliant thing that we will ever do.

Life is filled with people who you will not understand, people who will hurt you and be ignorant to you and not let you speak, but it is also filled with beautiful people who care about you. People who have been hurt themselves, and don’t want to see other people go through the same thing. Complete strangers who will approach you in public when you’re looking sad and ask if you’re okay, because even if they don’t know you, they care. They want you to be happy. They want you to be okay. Not for any selfish reason, but because you’re a person and you matter and you deserve to be told that, especially if you aren’t told very often. Life is filled with an endless array of possible friends, possible futures, possible saviours, while the alternative is empty and final. It is devoid of life’s possibilities.

Life is filled with loneliness and depression, but it is also filled with passion and love and inspiration, and you will have moments of both. You will lose your way and you will be confused and lost, but with that, you will find your way again. It might take you some time to find the path, and you may began to feel hopeless if you’ve been off of it for a while, but sooner or later, the path will always reveal itself. For every door that closes, another opens. For every storm that rages through our lives and destroys everything, a new bud sprouts out from the dirt. We will lose people, and we will find new ones. We will see dreams die, only to discover new dreams that make us so much more excited, so much alive.

Life is filled with pain, but it is filled with so much more as well. It is filled with hot, summer sun that bakes our skin. It is filled with good food and good laughs and loving animals. It is filled with endless possibilities that we may not have complete control over, but we do still have some – enough control, anyway, that we can decide if we want to open ourselves up to these possibilities or not. And if you give up, then you are not only giving up on the pain, but on everything else as well.

So fight. It won’t always be easy. In fact, sometimes it will feel downright impossible, and in those moments, our best strategy for fighting involves taking a step back and recouping. It involves admitting that we aren’t okay and trying to get some help. Sometimes, it may even involve putting on a smile you don’t mean and going through the motions of your life until you can get to a place where that smile no longer feels fake. And as much as doing all this might hurt, it is all part of the fight that we cannot give up on. Because if we give up, then we lose everything. If we give up, we hurt ourselves more than life ever could, because we are robbing ourselves of our chance at ever making things better. And maybe that doesn’t matter to you so much right now, but if you would give yourself some time, if you allow yourself to fight, even just the slightest amount, then you will someday reach a place where it does matter. Where you will look back on where you are now and be so incredibly proud of yourself for giving yourself the chance to reach that place.

 

 

ANNOUNCEMENT: Save-My-Life School by Natalie Harris

Hello to all my amazing readers! I just wanted to take a moment to let you know that a friend of mine recently published a book, Save-My-Life School: A first responder’s mental health journey by Natalie Harris. I would really recommend checking it out, especially if you have any interest in issues of mental health. I found it especially haunting in the way that it makes you question our society’s perception on people dealing with mental illness. We are too quick to dismiss them as ‘crazy’ or ‘lesser than’, and this book really challenges that! You can find it on Amazon, or you can order it off of Indigo.

Why You Need to Talk About Suicide

Every once in a while, something will happen in the news that will bring the issue of depression and suicide to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Most recently, this news has been the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington.

Bennington killed himself on July 20 after a lengthy and somewhat public battle with depression. And none of us can judge the choice that he made, or think any worse of him because of it. Even those of us who have dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts before do not know what his precise situation was or what he was going through. I wish his loved ones all the best, and I truly hope that he has found peace now.

But all that being said, we do need to talk about suicide. And not because Bennington killed himself. Not because it’s a trendy topic to pass around now. Because there are still people out there who are considering taking their own lives even now, and those people need someone to reach out to them.

Suicide is an awkward topic of conversation for many people, and it can be hard to approach someone who you know and love and ask them, “are you considering killing yourself?” Unless we have dealt with suicidal thoughts ourselves, we tend to think of it as something foreign, as something other, as something that can’t touch the people we care about, but it very much can, and it’s not as strange or unusual as you might think. In fact, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, on average there are 121 suicides per day. The only reason why we don’t think of it as common is because we just don’t talk about it.

We are told, indirectly, that we should not talk about it. We don’t want to come forth because we don’t want anyone to worry about us, we don’t want to burden them with something that they don’t have to deal with. I know that when I was dealing with suicidal thoughts, one of the main reasons why I didn’t want to tell anybody about it was because then they’d think that I was going to kill myself, and I didn’t want to be thought of as a risk. We as a society hold such a huge stigma against mental illness and thoughts of self harm that we silence people who are actually dealing with them, people who don’t want to be perceived as weak or risky or bothersome or attention-seekers. And so, silenced, they deal with these thoughts on their own. They mull over these thoughts within a mind that is already ill, already enforcing beliefs that are not true, and so it isn’t at all surprising when they come to the worst conclusion.

The more that we talk about depression and suicidal thoughts, the more that we are willing to approach someone who we think might be dealing with either illness, the more that people who are dealing with them will feel comfortable talking about it themselves. We need to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts because talking about it could quite literally save lives.

And if you are a person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you deserve to have your life saved. You deserve to be listened to and loved and understand, and you deserve to live a long and fulfilling life. You deserve all the amazing things this world can offer to you.

And I understand that, if you are dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts, then you might not believe that right now. The problem with these illnesses is that they cause your mind to lie to you, to tell you things that aren’t true and skew your perception of the world. You see everything through the lens of your thoughts, like that old line about seeing the world through rose coloured glasses except the exact opposite. Your illness tells you that the world would be better off without you and that you don’t matter, but you need to know that that is a lie. You do matter. You matter so much that I don’t even have words to fully encompass it. And if you were to die, then your loved ones – friends, family, pets, maybe even that neighbour who says hello to you every morning and has come to depend on your smile and wave, they would all care. I would care. With you gone, there would be a great hole in the world that can never truly be filled.

But let’s ignore all of that for a moment, because I know that your depression and suicidal thoughts might be contradicting everything I just said: you simply deserve to live for your own sake. No one else’s. You deserve a chance to find something that makes you happy. You deserve a chance to feel the sun on your face again. You deserve a chance to chase your dreams and maybe see them come true, to fall in love with someone new (or someone old again) and to build a whole new life, different from the one you’re leading now. Because the only thing constant in this world is that things change, and maybe you aren’t happy with where you are now, but maybe you will be one, two, ten years from now. Maybe you’ll look back on this day and find it difficult to believe that that was you, that you ever felt this way. Don’t you at least deserve the chance to know if that’s true? Life, after all, is full of possibilities, while death is so final.

And maybe your depression will never fully go away, and maybe your life will never be entirely perfect, but pain can be dealt with. You can learn to live, not defined by your pain, but existing alongside of it, understanding and respecting it but not run solely by it. I know that I may never be completely rid of my depression, as it’s something that I’ve dealt with on and off for as long as I can remember, but that doesn’t mean that my life isn’t worth living. Quite the opposite, actually; the moments of pain and emptiness make the moments of joy and fulfillment all the more spectacular.

And if I can give you a bit of advice right now, since we’re talking about depression and suicide, I would say that you need to keep talking about it. Reach out to someone – a friend, a family member, a therapist, a doctor, a diary, a stranger on the internet, a suicide crisis line, your pet gerbil, whatever might make you feel comfortable. Because an amazing thing happens when you start to talk: you are no longer dealing with everything on your own. There is someone else in this world who knows how you feel, who can be there for you and make you feel like you aren’t alone. And sometimes, when you can hear or read your own thoughts expressed outside of yourself, you might even begin to realize that the things your depression have been saying to you are lies. And as much as it might be difficult to make yourself un-believe them, the first step in overcoming them is at least identifying them as lies.

Whenever anybody takes their own life, celebrity or not, it is always a great tragedy. It is someone who has succumbed to an illness that they could no longer control, and that is always a huge loss in this world. But so long as you are still alive, you still have a chance, and you still have control. You can reach out and talk to someone, you can seek help in dealing with your illness. In the words of the late Chester Bennington, “I came to a point in my life where I was like, ‘I can either just give up and f****** die or I can f****** fight for what I want,'”, and so long as you are still alive, the fight is not yet over. You are a warrior, you are stronger than you will ever know, and you can beat this. You deserve to beat this – for your loved ones, for the world, and most importantly, for yourself.

Why We Need to Suffer

So life kinda sucks, right?

And I don’t just mean your life. I mean everyone’s life. Every single one of us deals regularly with pain of some sort. We all have our difficulties to face, our dragons to battle. My dragon might be very different from your dragon, but we are united in our struggle nonetheless.

And I think it is fairly needless to say that struggling is… well, hard. Inherently, that is the nature of it; when you’re in pain, it is very difficult to get over, and it is very difficult to see the bright side of it, especially when you’re still in the thick of it. It’s very rare that you hear someone say, “thank you for hurting me, I really needed that,” at least not until years in the future when they’ve had some retrospect on the whole incident and the pain has had its chance to subside.

And more than that, I think that a lot of us tend to have this opinion about pain that it’s something that is better left avoided. We look back on certain choices that we made at the time and regret them, because those were choices that led to pain. We think that we would have been better off if we hadn’t suffered at all. We ask ourselves questions like “why me” and “what did I do to deserve this?”

But the thing about pain at the end of the day is that you need it. Pain is absolutely essential as a part of life and as a method of growth.

And I know, if you are currently in the thick of suffering, you probably hate me for saying that. You probably think that I sound insensitive, and you want to punch me in my stupid, optimistic face. Trust me, I get it; I’ve been in your position.

Throughout most of my life, I suffered from depression and anxiety. I self-harmed, I made plans on how to end my own life, and the only reason why I never really gave up on my life was because my anxiety animated me like a puppet on strings, propelling me forward with the help of nerves and fear. And especially when things were really bad, I often found myself wondering why? I blamed other people, I thought back on certain things that had made my mental illness worse and I wished that I could have avoided them, I was generally upset and bitter about my lot in life. After all, what had I done to deserve this? Why did I have to be born to have a harder time existing in this world at all?

And admittedly, I deal much easier with both illnesses now. I understand what they mean, I know how to cater my thoughts and actions around avoiding panic attacks and bouts of depression, and while it doesn’t always work, it does help. And since I have had an easier time dealing with my mental illnesses, I have come to learn that I am glad I dealt with them.

That’s not to say that I hope I struggle with dealing with them again. That’s not to say that I wish it upon other people, or that there is anything romantic and glamorous about suicidal thoughts and tendencies at all.

All that I am saying is that if I hadn’t dealt with them, if I hadn’t struggled the way that I had, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. My struggles helped to shape who I am, how I think, what I push myself to do and what I aspire to be. They helped me to better understand when someone else is suffering and how important it is to help them. They made me a more empathetic person, and they made me a much stronger person. Because I have dealt with depression and anxiety, I know what that’s like, and I can use that experience to help someone else who is dealing with something similar. I have the ability to help someone else out by sharing my pain with them.

When you’re trying to make a muscle stronger, you must first cause yourself pain so that your body can repair it. The same is true with mental and emotional strength. If we were constantly happy and comfortable, there would be nothing to overcome. We would take things for granted and accept the world as it was, would make no attempts to make the world or ourselves better.

We need our pain because it is a part of our lives. Our pain takes us on different paths, just as much as our pleasure does. I have known people who used their pain to build a whole life, people who make a career out of helping others in a similar situation. I have known people who learn from pain, who discover how important it is to talk about the suffering that we experience in life and how important it is to not only help other people but to change things. Pain is not a hindrance in our lives; it is our teacher.

So, yes, life sucks. We all must suffer, and maybe that isn’t fair, but who said that life is fair? Beautiful things can still come from pain if we let it. If we focus on making ourselves strong despite pain, rather than allow ourselves to become weaker because of it, then pain can be a wonderful thing. It has so much potential, so long as you stop asking “why me?” and start asking, “what is the lesson in all of this?”

So forgive your pain. Don’t regret experiencing it. Don’t wish that it could have just gone away, because it shouldn’t have. You should have experienced it. After all, it helped form you into the person you are.