Having the flu is self-evident. Having depression is not.
In fact this may be where the stigma of having a mental illness stems from. I’m just spit-balling here, but it seems the conditions you have to tell people about are the ones that have poor social representation. No one is going to get their judgmental on over a guy in the next cubicle with a cold (unless that is he sneezed on your lunch), but people all of a sudden become armchair psychiatrists if they get a whiff of mental illness coming off of you. It seems that today everyone wants to be able to explain away every little behaviour with a nifty little label. ‘Oh, just ignore him, he has borderline personality disorder’, you know what, some people are just assholes, and it doesn’t matter what their diagnosis is.
I’m off track. I have depression most of the time, it tends to ebb and flow, from being depressed to being anxious. One time a doctor described depression and anxiety as two ends of the same stick, and honestly that is exactly how it feels. Rolling from one end to the other, with most of my time spent in depression. But that’s not to say I’m sad. I have had those periods where the two combine forces – and it is not pretty. The relentlessness wave of tears is all consuming, combined with the complete apathy of self leads to lying on damp sheets surrounded by discarded tissues. Your an island, and there isn’t a thing anyone can do to help you. Kind of like how you shouldn’t move anyone after an accident (unless they are in immediate danger of course), same rules apply. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not advocating abandoning that person, just don’t try to help them in that moment, it will be futile and things may be said and done that cannot easily be undone.
I have recently gotten over my embarrassment at talking about my depression. I just don’t care if everyone knows. When you have dealt with it silently as long as I have you just give up trying to cover it up. That was a job in and of itself.
One of my favourite bloggers in the world tweets regularly about zir depressive episodes and honestly it was the most comforting thing in the world to read. You see I don’t know zir at all, except through zir writing, so I don’t see the dark times but with twitter I was able to witness zir open up in real time. Honestly it was just so nice seeing someone whose writing and intelligence I admired so much admit to bouts of depression and social anxiety. Just like me. That’s why I started telling people, if scrolling through the twitter feed of someone I didn’t actually know could make me feel better then surely actually talking about with everyone could do the same thing for others.
It was a weight off my mind that I didn’t even know existed. When you cart around a secret for so long you get used to its weight. However one thing did strike me, a noticeable number of people said to me some variation of ‘but you always seemed so happy’, like I had fooled them in someway. The truth is when I’m happy, I’m happy – its genuine but happiness is not my baseline. Maybe its my brain chemistry, perhaps it was my upbringing, the point of this is not to unravel my psyche but to illustrate that depressed people have emotions too. We just experience things differently, but you know what, people can experience the same event differently to others – not because of mental illness – but because people are fucking different.
In a similar vain to the ‘you seem so happy’ people, we also have the ‘you never seemed sad’ people. What, am I meant to shuffle around in my dirty pajamas, with lank greasy hair hanging curtain-like around my gaunt face? I’ll be honest, I do that most days anyway. During particularly depressive episodes if I did manage to leave the house you can bet dollars to donuts I at least got my shit together for appearances sake, after all I was nothing if not an excellent keeper of my own secret.
Bearing one’s own secret can come back to haunt you though. In fact, I can’t think of a situation where having a secret of any kind has ever resulted in anything other than a kick in the grapes when its finally revealed, whether it be of your own accord or not. Seriously, if you can think of a situation where everything ‘comes up Millhouse’ after a secret reveal you let me know. I still remember the day I told my Dad. It was Father’s Day night (I know, helluva present), and I had been in a depressive vacuum for a little over a month. I say vacuum because when I am like that nothing can get in, and I certainly couldn’t get out. I was getting increasingly agitated as the isolation was truly setting in, so I decided I needed to get as many people on my team as possible – meaning I had to tell my dad. So I drove the 80 kilometers to his house at about 10 o’clock on a Sunday night.
I told him. I won’t bother rehashing the conversation, it was pretty stilted and if I am being honest fairly unhelpful. One of the things my Dad inadvertently tried to do was ‘catch me out’, by that I mean, he kept posing situations saying ‘but you were happy then’ or ‘you were confident then’. As if in a way trying to prove that I was wrong, and that I can’t have been depressed because look evidence. Despite the fact that he wasn’t being malicious it was still an overall shitty thing to be faced with. You see unlike the flu or a broken leg, I couldn’t point to a part of my body and say ‘see, I am sick’, he only had my word to go on.
For most people that’s just not enough.