– On keeping up appearances and its impact on mental health.
This piece has been written by Pallavi Khatri (Batch of 2022).
I admit the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’ articulated what I had failed to do for a long time now. Hence, I stole the title.
Before assuming that this is going to be another sad rant coming from a worn-out Law Schoolite, just hear me out. I believe positive manners towards others are a good thing. Whatever our parents taught us, beginning from being polite, respectful, kind and empathetic to others, is all correct. We can only expect to be treated the way we treat others. Hence, be nice to others and they will be good to you. Listen to others and your opinion shall be heard. Help others and they will help you. Sounds good till now, right? Well, yeah, because it is all true.
But hey, like the way Zomato Gold scammed us because none of us read the T&C, we never read them here either. We missed the fine print – the print that was different from the rest of the message. Unlike how we should be towards others, it mentioned caveats that indicated how we should be towards ourselves.
And now our mental health is in shambles.
From the moment we wake up in the morning till we hit the hay late at night, we are in constant effort to take the right decision on the most minor things. Consider the dilemma of deciding whether or not to acknowledge a senior who crossed you while going to class? Well, if I do acknowledge, then to what degree? Do I wave and say Hi, do I raise eyebrows, do I say ‘Sup’ and appear cool, do I give that awkward smile? Will this person be offended if I did not meet her standards of greeting? Will I need this individual’s help in the future? Will everyone else around me see how I ignored her? Will my wearing headphones piss people off? Will the earth collapse and the stars conspire to…? You get the gist.
Question after question on the most trivial things causes the cogs and wheels in our brains to work overtime until they overheat like the Samsung Note 7 and then burst into flames… or tears… or anger.
One might argue here that it’s necessary to keep this up, to monitor your every action, restrain your every human emotion to keep up that aura of happiness and niceness. Because, indeed, the world works like a Yelp for people where if you are downvoted, you’re fucked.
But I disagree. It doesn’t.
First, because people know. If you are able to understand the intentions behind a person’s manner towards you then it’s a bit rich to assume that they cannot do the same. And if they can do the same, then all your effort is wasted. All the conversations you create in your head, the way you pitch yourself, the way you stand, breathe, avoid sneezing, try to be neutral towards things you feel passionately about for the fear of being an annoyance or starting an argument. The way you pretend to act cool, when you are annoyed, offended, hurt or disturbed, it is all for nothing because humans understand each other and everyone at Law School is human (even the Saanps).
Second, because whatever one might say, trust and achievement don’t rest on your Yelp scores. A few good ‘reviews’ aren’t gonna make you the Shed at Dulwich (see VICE) and a couple of dings won’t cause a nosedive. This is because of the Law school grapevine. Word gets around. Everyone knows how you behave towards whom. And we know it isn’t possible to always be happy. The perpetually happy soul is thus an anomaly and his kept-up appearance will send alarm bells ringing for anyone who has to decide whether to work with him.
And the perpetually happy soul (or someone who aims to be one) knows that for him this is another reason to worry. To prevent nosediving he must know what A thinks of B thinks of C thinks of D, then moderate interactions accordingly. The gossip he shares with his friend circle now requires moderation because, well, he can’t really trust them completely with anything. He must appear to be smart but not cocky or people will not like him. He must perform well to look like an achiever to his peers, but he must play it cool when it doesn’t always work out because showing emotion is for duds. He cannot call out the flaws in the system, because it would be hypocritical and what if someone gets to know about it.
All of this thinking, overthinking, stressing, and overstressing will ultimately drive you into a dark place because, deep in your heart, you know what people think of you and how much people would do for you. And that hurts because despite all your ‘effort’, things rarely change and now you are in a vicious cycle of questioning your self-esteem and valuing yourself based on what others think of you.
And so, your mental health is in shambles.
But maybe there is a better way of handling this. Better than just keeping up the appearance of being happy, all day, every day, all the time, with everyone and burning out in the process.
Perhaps, we would be able to avoid this constant nervousness that is at the root of the varied nature of mental problems just by making a few lifestyle adjustments. Starting with valuing our own opinions, and our right to express what is just human emotion. Then, separating the act from the actor, and understanding people’s aims and motives to avoid taking the cutthroat competition (or literally anything else) we face personally. Further, placing ourselves and others in context to escape faulting them for expressing themselves and changing their tone from one of eternal sweetness to one that is just a tiny bit irritated with us, but is a little more human. Lastly, forgiving ourselves and others for being true to human nature because clearly being an achievement-oriented work machine is not working out anymore.
All of this might make Law Schoolites’ life visibly imperfect. But it could make us capable of pulling ourselves and others out of the abyss of indifference and ignorance we have all fallen into. It could make Law School more bearable for everyone.
And so maybe, we should all be a bit more human now because in the long-run, we’re all dead anyway.