by See Change Ambassador, Sonia Moloney
As I sit down to write this, I feel a sense of discomfort. Because while I can say exclusion happens less and less, it still happens.
I’ve been through feeling excluded and, to be honest, it is one of the worst things you can go through. Exclusion in my own words means that you’re not accepted due to something out of your control. In this case, a mental health condition.
Because of your mental health condition, when you do face exclusion it can and does make you feel like you did something wrong.
It makes you feel like you’ll never be accepted. You’re too anxious. You’re too much of a perfectionist, you’re weird, not normal. Self-exclusion is when you tell yourself stories; you believe them and so then you stay away from situations in which you think you won’t be accepted or understood. With anxiety, I deal with thoughts like that daily. But the hardest part is when you push yourself out of your comfort zone and you’re not accepted or understood by other people, be it a friendship group for example.
In my case, I can’t go to certain places because it can trigger a panic attack, like places with huge crowds or restaurants I’m not comfortable with due to anxiety around food. I tried to explain that to my friends and I was made to feel unwelcome and I wasn’t invited out again.
The damage that exclusion can cause to someone’s mental health is huge. They fear being excluded again. It may increase their anxiety or mental health condition when they are in a similar situation – making it even harder than it was before to face it. They can withdraw completely. It’s a horrible situation to be put into and nobody deserves that. I know a lot of people will blame themselves. If you have been in that situation try not to blame yourself, it’s not your fault.
For me when I face exclusion I draw on times when I’ve been accepted. Right now I have an amazing bunch of friends who helped me by being understanding. For example, I got a text yesterday and my friend had asked which restaurant I was comfortable going to – they were both the same restaurant just in different locations. You may not realise how big a thing that was for me knowing I have a friend who considers that stuff. But coming from a past time where friends didn’t even want to invite me again because I couldn’t go to certain places, that’s a huge difference. It makes me feel like my mental health condition isn’t an issue. I’m just me and that’s accepted.
Or the time where I was invited to my friend’s party she told me to wear whatever I felt comfortable with and I could leave when I felt uncomfortable – be that 20 minutes after arriving or whenever I wanted to leave. Her key focus was that I could enjoy the party but also feel comfortable. These again seem like little things but these are key to help someone feel included.
We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on mental health. Educating ourselves is key to not only stopping exclusion from happening but also stopping the stigma around mental health.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following