Motivational speaker and author Jim Rohn famously said, “You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with.” David Burkus wrote that it is actually bigger than that and you are the reflection of all the people around you.
Whichever you choose to believe, the point is that, in my opinion, the people around me influence the way I behave, learn, and succeed (succeeding at life and my overall goals in general, not specific to my job or financial position).
I recently had a conversation with my mentor and friend about how if you hang out with people who express challenges, you, too, will be challenged. I used to explain it using “sin eater” terminology. It’s not how it sounds; for me it’s more about people who vent a lot about their challenges. People seek me out to speak to because I’m a good listener and (sometimes) have a skill to deconstruct a challenge without a lot of emotions, so I hear a lot of the unideal things going through people’s minds. The more I listen to them vent about what they are going through, I tend to start feeling down myself about the situation, and if I have too many of these conversations in a day, my mood is affected. This is one of the reasons my best friend and business partner Sarah and I always ask each other, “Can I talk to you about something? Do you have the mental space for it right now?” It’s a very respectful and considerate way of testing each other’s mental state before unloading on one another.
I think, sometimes, I feel the same way about my environment. Of course, I do not believe that any person with a mental illness should be told to go for a hike or do some yoga instead of taking their medication and/or seeing a therapist. And if you have said that to someone recently, please stop. While I take medication myself, I have gone very sizable periods without any medication and taking the “natural” route, so I don’t shame those who do it, but making an assumption that this works for everyone, and also making a recommendation against a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment is very dangerous and stigmatizing. Yoga, meditation, and getting outside helps me, yes, but that is on top of medication and therapy. And those activities are actually recommended by both of my doctors (they are dopamine-related activities). And the second of course is that hanging out with happy people all the time does not cure depression. I’m sorry but it does not. I love hanging out with people who make me laugh (my boyfriend is one of these people), but it is very possible and common to laugh with your friends for hours and then go home and cry for no reason. It happens all the time; I know this because it has happened to me.
But I also believe that some environmental activities (surroundings and people) can help some (key words can and some, not will and all). I shared that a friend of mine was recently going through some schizophrenia challenges, and I will admit that I was very scared for him in the mental state that he was in and the first thing I asked him was if someone in his area could come over and hang out with him. When I didn’t get the answer I was looking for I recommended that he go for a walk, even if it was only for ten minutes (my doctor recommended this to me at least twice a week when I was severely depressed). Most times it can be a distraction from what you’re feeling (giving someone in this situation ‘something to do’ can be very impactful for them; it is like a grounding exercise, it makes you attempt to temporarily pause the things going on internally and switch your focus) and other times it can increase your dopamine levels so you have a change in head space. Of course, paranoid schizophrenia doesn’t always manifest itself in depression terms, and telling someone who is paranoid and hearing voices to leave the enclosure of their apartment and go outside where there are people they don’t know could have undesirable consequences; like I said, it is very complicated. But I was afraid of losing my friend to his disorder, so I made a quick decision to do whatever I could to help him feel at least a little better. I couldn’t do nothing. (He is okay. I talked to him last night.)
I think that ultimately, the people and things around you have the potential of impacting how you live your life and succeed, but I don’t think we should hold everyone to that all the time. Just because we see a quote we like doesn’t mean it applies directly to everyone we know. I would really like us as a society to practice inclusivity by understanding that people do experience different things and have different environments and have very specific challenges that not everyone knows anything about. I recently wrote a piece about toxic positivity and the same thing goes for saying things like “happiness is a choice.” While it is for many people, it is not for everyone, and forcing that idea on every person is unfair and apathetic. I do believe that I am the average of the people around me because I take the time to learn from them and understand their perspective, but as I said, I don’t believe hanging out with happy people every day can cure depression. Hanging out with happy people can make you laugh, but many people with mental illnesses wear a mask; that is no secret. Exercising and going to the beach helps me feel better when I’m having schizophrenia challenges, but that doesn’t make it a treatment. It’s a tool in my wheelhouse that helps me, not necessarily everyone else. We are all different people; for example there are even variations between people living with schizophrenia, our brain disorders don’t all manifest the same way. Maybe we can think about our use of blanket statements to describe everyone or even a group of people, and be thoughtful and conscious about the fact that we all have our own shit. Let’s all take time to hear people out and understand other perspectives. We can’t be inclusive until we take the time to do that.