Irrelevant difference

One of the questions I have been asked since I returned to work is whether people are treating me differently because of my transparency about my mental health journey. Candidly, I’m not sure.

An outcome of my extensive therapy over the past year is that I spend far less time than I used to worrying about what other people think about me. Previously, I was consumed with anxiety about how other people perceived me. I expended great amounts of energy trying to make other people like me. I was playacting my way through life. Because I’m less concerned now by how others think of me, I spend less time scrutinizing their words and actions.

A dear friend once suggested that I think of this way of living as the difference between playing chess and playing golf. Rather than trying to decipher others’ hidden agendas and game plan around their grand strategies as an aspiring chess master, I should concentrate on playing my best game and adjust as needed to changes in the environment, like a good golfer. Taking that advice to heart, my emphasis is less on what other people are doing—something over which I have no control—and more on how self-aware I am in the moment of my emotions and how they influence my impetus to behave. That orientation lets me both feel my feelings and decide what I want to do with them. It maintains my agency. Other people may be treating me differently, but that’s not what I’m paying attention to. I’m looking out for how I feel and using those data points to inform how I act.

There’s also the question of correlation and causation. As I have learned from my doctoral studies in the behavioral sciences, causation is difficult to support and finding correlation is not always meaningful or illuminating. I can guess as much as I want about whether or not my openness about my mental health is affecting the way others treat me. However, I don’t live in their heads (thankfully), so I will never really know.

Perhaps the most important realization for me is that it doesn’t matter. Knowing whether or not someone is treating me differently than they did before or would be in this moment if they were unaware of my history will not change my own process of recognizing my emotions and choosing how to behave in a way that most benefits my well-being.

That I do know.

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