Elisa A. Escalante/ LCSW/ 9-15-2021
“They see only what we let them see. Everything else is up to them to dig up and find. Yes, it is a test that very few will pass.” -EaE
“Perception is reality”, one of the many lines that made me cringe when I was active-duty military. Especially working in the mental health clinic, this was the higher ups way of lecturing us to behave ourselves at all times. Both in and out of uniform, 24/7. Why? Because if anyone see’s us acting a fool we would embarrass our work section, our squadron, our Med Group and overall, the entire wing. “Perception is reality” meant it does not matter who we are, all that matters is what people perceive. That perception will be the ‘truth’, regardless of the actual truth. Truth no longer mattered; our reputation was everything. Our reputation could make or break our career. This lesson carried me far in my professional life, but it also had some deep emotional/ mental consequences.
One of the more difficult things about living in a society where we are forced to prioritize ‘acting’ above being ourselves for the sake of reputation, is that we lose sight of who we actually are. The motivation and motive behind our actions are no longer genuinely us, rather they are about reputable preservation. When this becomes the norm, humans will even forget why they do what they do, day in and day out. Norms are rarely questioned; routine is rarely questioned. The infamous “That’s just the way it is” is the answer we get. This is supposed to justify everything and leave us in our ruts and routines. In our cycles, whether we want to stay there or not.
Perception is not reality. The more we cling to the opposite, the more we become the society that does not ask questions. The less we feel the need to summon up the strength to look for more evidence. The more we lack critical thinking skills. The more we jump to conclusions and judge with little knowledge. The more we push people out because we think our initial perception is truth and fail to explore actual reality. Below are some common perceptions that we may fake as reality.
Smiling and busy means ‘happy and okay’
Here’s the actual reality, people tend to applaud and praise burnout. We are highly attracted to the ‘busy bodies’ of the world and will constantly reinforce their actions through positive talk and encouragement. We may also cling to the belief that because someone is working excessive hours with a smile on their face, that they are surely ‘fine’ and physically/ mentally healthy. Why do we praise this vs express concern? 1- It’s easier to deal with because no issues expressed by our counterparts means less emotional/ mental work for us. 2- They may serve as our role models, something to aspire to. 3- They may be our caregivers or breadwinners; therefore, we want them to be ‘okay’ to continue taking care of us. Why is this a problem in the long run? This role or act, along with the pressure/ reinforcement by others, may cause said person to embody the persona, to the point of no longer knowing how to stop or ask for help. A refusal to ever take on the ‘helpee’ role, although realistically, we all do need help sometimes. Your boss, coworker, friend, family member and/ or acquaintance that is working fifty plus hours a week, constantly smiling and always appears to ‘have their shit together’ could actually be suicidal. Never forget that.
Drug Users are ‘lazy junkies’:
Are there drug addicted people that tear their entire lives a part and destroy everyone in their path? Absolutely. There always have been and there always will be. A serious drug addiction is no joke and not to be taken lightly. However, are there also enormous amounts of people that use drugs regularly and are able to function and hold down jobs, social lives, parenting and more? Absolutely. The drug is not the addict, and the addict is not the drug. Addiction is in the mind, while drugs are potential tools. As a society, we stigmatize and taboo the drug, and forget that it’s the mind that has everything to do with how this drug will be used, or potentially abused. Some minds will never abuse a drug to the point of destroying their life, while some minds crave the drug over any/ everything else, including loved ones. Some minds will literally crave death unless they feel that high or low again. Despite the perception that ‘we do drugs and ruin our lives’, in most cases, we actually do drugs to ‘save our lives’ when it’s the only thing we know of that helps. So, rather than taboo this subject, it would be more helpful to openly talk about it. It’s imperative that we educate ourselves more and combat the shame associated with falling into a drug use pattern. And just to clarify, talking and educating is NOT the same as encouraging.
The Worker Persona is ‘Who we are’:
This one is near and dear to my heart, and I believe it’s because I have worked in mental health/ social services for the past 14 years. I have had an endless series of perceptions thrown my way regarding my chosen career and ‘who I am expected to be’ due to this choice. Our job is NOT who we are, but because we spend so much time doing it, that’s an easy fact to forget. It can be a serious issue when we are pressured to create our work persona. But what’s even worse? When we are pressured to take that persona everywhere with us, even when we are off duty. As a therapist I was often expected, by my peers, to be a free confidant, superior with my own life/ self-care (Laughs), a fortune teller, always grounded and somehow… free of the ‘negative’ emotions. To keep it real, these expectations pushed me into a very bad place over the years. It was a heavy burden both in and out of work, and I did not have the tools or emotional capacity to address it properly. There are so many parts to the human identity, what we do to make money and pay bills is only one. We are more than that though. I know there are many out there like me whose work lives have taken over and seeped into other departments. I encourage everyone to confront this and make the necessary changes.
Social Media posts tell us ‘All’:
I, for one, always knew that what we post online isn’t necessarily our whole truth or reality. Why? Because in my 14 years as a working woman, I have rarely posted my job. My social media was, in my mind, for my social life. Friends, family, gym, vacations, silly stuff etc. Through the years, sometimes my posts were met with envy. “Must be nice”, “Do you even work?” “How do you have time for all that?” Well for one, a social media post takes an average of 10-30 seconds of my time. Two. Yes! I have always worked. And those “must be nice’ vacations I took were paid for, by my money, that I EARNED, doing my job(s). I’m not the only one that gets attacked, celebrities take up the brunt of it of course. 😊 The point is, social media is a whole new world in which we can pick and choose what we want portrayed. The options are limitless! Our social media personality can also drastically differ from our actual real-life personality. For example, online I am often described as silly, outgoing, and social. When in real life, I am the ‘Debbie downer’ with major depression that can barely summon up the energy to conversate when I am dragged to social events. It’s not beneficial to assume social media is reality. And hopefully, we never lose sight of the benefits of organic socializing. AKA Real life.