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As it’s “World Mental Health Day” today, I thought I would do a post on some of the stigma that surrounds mental health. Clearly the discussions still need to happen, even in this “enlightened” age, given the most recent outrageous examples of ignorance and insensitivity from Asda and The Sun.
You may ask what I know about mental health for me to be able to comment, and some of the more astute of you will have realised where I’m going with this. Yes, I have a mental health issue. I have chronic depression and anxiety. I got diagnosed back when I was 14, although the psychiatrist felt that it possible that I could have had it for longer than just the year he originally thought.
Over the years since the diagnosis, my attitude to my own condition has ranged from shame, embarrassment, fear and most recently; defiance. I was so scared to tell people that I had depression for fear they would either think I was going to burst into tears at a moments notice, or worse, that I was some creature that wasn’t safe to be around. As a teenager, it was a very difficult time and I took a few knockbacks.
As the years progressed, I finally trusted certain people enough to tell them. As depression was still a very under-discussed subject, their responses were ones of ignorance. “But you look so normal?”, “Well that’s nonsense, you’re always so bubbly”. “What have you got to be sad about?”. They couldn’t grasp that it was possible to be sad for no reason and still wear a “mask” in public to convince others that you were ok. The connotations were that I should be weeping into a pillow in a darkened room. More than likely, some of them probably imagined that I should be rocking backwards and forwards a little too. You know, to complete the image nicely. I don’t resent their questions. If a subject is not widely discussed, you go based on preconceptions.
For those who don’t have depression, it can be hard to fully appreciate the condition so I want to clarify a few bits to help you out:
I am not depressed ALL the time, but it can come on at ANY time. I call these my Depressive Bouts. They vary in length and severity. When it does strike, it starts off as tears. But quickly progresses to the feeling of emptiness. That I am just going through the motions in life and I have no sense of feeling. I have no motivation to actually move or do anything, let alone talk to anyone. It feels like there is a black hole in me, that is draining me of any happiness. After a little while of this feeling, I try to shake myself out of it and I end up getting angry with myself to failing to DO anything. This adds to the depressive spiral because that’s when the thoughts of uselessness and failure tend to show up.
If the “bout” occurs on a day in which I either have to go to work or a tutorial, the battle becomes twice as hard as I now have to put on the mask and try and make my limbs and mouth work properly. Given that my job involves talking to people on a phone practically all day, this task can be incredibly hard and overwhelmingly tiring. You have to act as though everything is ok and still be the pinnacle of professionalism. It is so lonely at this stage as no-one can do anything to help you. That can be the most demoralising part of the whole thing in my opinion.
It is hard to truly convey the overall feeling of helplessness, emptiness and sadness involved during this time so I turn to the legend that is JK Rowling. She managed to so perfectly encapsulate the feeling in the creation of the terrifying Dementors in her Harry Potter series. They are the embodiment of depression. The effect they have on witches, wizards and muggles alike is exactly the effects of depression. And like the dementors, I find that after a depressive bout, a nice big bar of chocolate takes the edge off it nicely 😉
I don’t want people to think I am seeking pity or charity. I am simply seeking understanding and acceptance. I am far more confident now about my condition and am no longer ashamed. I have depression and anxiety but I am also a geek. I am a baker, a crafter, a law student, a dancer (badly), a singer (also badly), a girlfriend, a daughter and a sister.
I am a person first and a mental condition last.
So please, on this World Mental Health Day, start discussing conditions. Start a conversation and be prepared to listen and understand. They may just surprise you.
Take care, guys and much love