Contribution from Gnomy Evergreen
Even as a child, I had always felt that I was different, or not ordinary, and had thought that I was weird. In our society, people have always taught their next generation what is right or wrong, good or bad. Some ethical problems may be quite black and white, however, there are some words which may be neutral, although they are negative in the eyes of many people.
For example, what is the definition of weird? To me, the definition is just something which the majority are not used to seeing, but it does not have to be negative. Most people would be very offended if someone called them weird, abnormal, or unnatural. For me, another example would be that even very common problems like colour blindness, or diabetes, could be considered abnormal too, as most people can see the difference between many tones, and diabetes is a type of illness.
Many times, illnesses can be described as abnormal too, so having any illness or physical problem or being abnormal in any way does not have to be something horrible, scary, or shameful, and we can admit it if we need to. The word unnatural only means the opposite of natural, therefore, it can be neutral as well. When I was younger, I remember sometimes saying in front of others (mostly older adults), “I am weird, or abnormal” and the adults would remark, “You cannot say that about yourself!” Even though I understand that they had only wanted me to be more confident, I believe today, that to them I could be different but should not describe myself this way as it is negative.
The problem with romanticising strength
Also, the “hero culture” in many societies, or the culture of romanticising bravery/fearlessness can create many problems for some people. Each person has a different personality, some people are more fearless and can tackle adversity with a “fighter spirit” (spirit of never giving up). They are stronger and more able to handle any problem which they may have. Others are more positive, and there are people who have a “happy go lucky” or cheerful and easy-going attitude. These people are often more popular in society as the majority believe that being strong, fearless, having a fighter spirit, or being positive, means having the “correct” attitude. Society believes that these people are our role models, therefore, even though we have different personalities and are different, we should learn not to be fearful, timid, negative, or allow others to see that we are weak or admit that we are overwhelmed in difficult situations.
I have learned that we cannot compare ourselves with others and feel inferior or no good just because someone else can do something which we are not able to do. It does not mean that other people should respect us less. One of my examples is that some athletes are able to run 100 metres in 10 seconds or even less while some scientists or mathematicians are able to solve the most complicated formulae. Does it mean that others are no good because they are not able to do the same?
So, I believe that when it comes to people‘s personalities, the kind of spirit or attitude which they have, and whether they are able to face different problems, it is the same. Many people love hearing rags to riches stories and are inspired by how some successful people arrived at their high station in life from nothing in the beginning, or how some people selflessly turned around to help others after having walked a very difficult road themselves. I very much respect those people too, but believe that we cannot expect everyone to be a role model or hero as it is not possible. I think that one reason why most people find it so shameful to admit being weak, fearful, negative, or over sensitive, is because society has taught us that this is not something which we can accept.
Also when I was younger, the people around me would often show me true stories or examples of how people who are much less fortunate, or have much more serious problems/illnesses/disabilities can still become successful by working hard. I understand that they had only wanted to encourage me to do better, but I only felt more frustrated and negative after listening to those stories. I often had the feeling that I could never be like them as I did not have this kind of personality or spirit, therefore I would think, or sometimes answer, that I cannot be like them, or that I am simply not as good as them. When I spoke to adults about my problems, or how I felt, I remember admitting that I am not as strong or brave as others, and then they would tell me, “ I think that you are quite brave, and quite a strong person too.” I know that they said this to encourage me as well. Thinking about this now, I still do not see myself as strong, brave, or positive, but believe that I have learned to accept, respect, and love myself, as I believe that I can still be a good person.
Experiences, free will, and mental health
I had always disagreed with, and disliked the idea of many psychologists/psychiatrists, as well as some doctors, that abnormal thinking and all types of abnormal behaviour must be “corrected”. I agree that people with mental illnesses can often feel extremely frightened, depressed, or frustrated, and therefore need help from professionals. I also believe that the job of a psychologist or psychiatrist is to understand and help the patient to follow their own wishes, or dreams, and to be able to have the life that the patient wants. It should not be to help the patient have a life which the psychologist or others think is “normal” or “complete”. For example, if a patient very much wishes to have good relationships with others or have good friends, but is always worried about being cheated or hurt by the people they know and therefore is frustrated and unhappy, I believe that they need help. However, if a person fears, or is worried about something which they actually do not wish to have, then I do not think that this needs to be “cured”, or “corrected”.
No one should tell another person what types of experiences they should have, as no one can be sure what will make another person the happiest. When it comes to a person‘s own wishes, or how they wish to live, as long as they do not hurt anyone or offend others, we should respect their free will. The truth is that no person can have all the different life experiences. Therefore, if a psychologist tells a patient that they are not thinking “correctly” when the patient actually understands themselves, and knows their own wishes, it seriously harms the patient and does not make sense either.
I very much agree with these three quotations below by Søren Kierkegaard- a 19th century Danish existentialist philosopher, and Jean Paul Sartre- a 20th century French philosopher.
“Each individual- not reason, society, or religious orthodoxy- is solely tasked with giving meaning to life, and living it sincerely, and “authentically”. (Søren Kierkegaard)
“Subjectivity is truth” (Søren Kierkegaard)
“Life has no meaning a priori, it is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing, but the value that you choose”. (Jean Paul Sartre)
To me, the line “Subjectivity is truth” is sometimes true, as an experience is positive or negative to a person because of their own feelings, opinions and wishes. So, it would be meaningless to live, or have life experiences, just to be able to fit into society. In the end, each person has to understand themselves and their wishes, follow their own free will, and do what is meaningful to them, to be happy.
Accepting more than one way of living life
Quite soon after my 25th birthday, I had completed writing and recording an original song which has always been very meaningful to me. Writing this song – Proud To Be Me, I had learned that it is not possible for everyone to appreciate, or be proud of, all our ideas or everything that we do. So, this does not mean that what we are doing is not good enough or that our ideas are no good only because what different people appreciate is not the same. There will always be people who disagree with, or dislike, our opinions but when we have our own reasons or explanations, this is not a reason for us to be afraid to express them. How others see us is their choice, unless we have attacked them.
When I was younger, I was often afraid of admitting the way I was, what I thought, or my wishes, as I was worried about being judged or criticised, especially by people who were important to me. I was also afraid of mentioning my mental health problems in front of others, not because I thought that having mental health problems was shameful but because I worried that they would judge me when they realised what my wishes were – that I did not wish to live like other young people.
Speaking honestly, there is much more that I would like to continue to do. I believe that if I had been “corrected”, or did not have any of my mental health problems (that I was 100% “normal”), I would not be the same person, have the same personality, ideas, or opinions which I have today. I would like more people to know that mental health patients do not have to be successfully “cured” to be able to share their stories, even if this is what many people in society would expect. I would also like to share my opinion that we are not just a part of one generation of the human race, each person is themselves.
Gnomy Evergreen (the author’s pen name) is a person who has lived in Hong Kong since birth. She lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Gerascophobia, an extremely rare fear of growing up. Since the age of 10, she has received various treatments, including cognitive behavioural therapy and exposure and response prevention, which made her feel unseen and othered. Now, she is trying to raise awareness about the emphasis on ‘curing’ rather than ‘helping’ in conventional medical treatment of these conditions.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of The HK HUB.
Header image credits: Ben White via Unsplash