March 12, 2013

Billie Myers talks about her experience of depressionWhen I said, “Yes, sure I'll write a blog” about my personal experience with depression I didn't realise how scared and nervous I would be when I sat down to put pen to paper.

Really, what on earth could I say on this topic, that hasn’t been expressed or experienced by millions of people before me, right here on this site?

Strangely enough, the question answered itself very simply, “I don’t!”  At best, all I can do is add my voice to the conversation and hopefully help raise awareness in some little way.

So I thought I’d write a short blog about how profoundly pervasive and dangerously discriminatory the societal stigma, public ignorance and political indifference that surrounds mental illness truly is. 

Myth #1: Mental illness is brought on by a weakness of character…

Fact: Mental illness is not caused by personal weakness, but rather, by a very complex interplay of genetic, biological, social and environmental factors.

Of course, my natural inclination as a writer of sorts is to hide behind metaphoric visualizations that make perfect sense to me, but at the same time remain vague enough to be left open to interpretation by others. The perfect cop-out. The perfect disguise…. and truth be told that is what I want to do! But somewhere in my panic I knew it would serve no purpose. Sometimes, the truth is nothing more than a statement of fact, and with that said, the first inescapable truth I want to share is simple; I have a mental illness called depression.

The second inescapable truth is - I wish I didn’t! Not because I'm ashamed, but because, much like many other illnesses or diseases out there, its symptoms, whilst not always easy to isolate, recognise or describe, are profoundly emotionally, physically and socially debilitating.

Myth #2: Mental illness doesn’t affect me, or anyone I know

Fact: Given 1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, it’s fairly safe to say it does!

Actually I just lied… There are indeed times where, despite daily medication and a great psychiatrist, the culturally ingrained badge of shame and entrenched dogma that erroneously surrounds depression still manages to hold me captive. Inside, yet outside myself, I unknowingly become my own worst enemy; the proverbial judge, jury and accused all rolled into one. Unblinking, unequivocal, unrelenting and worst of all unapologetic, guilt, uselessness, embarrassment, insignificance, isolation, hopelessness, emptiness, abandonment, detachment and self loathing shine their fraudulent omnipresence on everything I hold dear and BANG…

THE FLASHBULBS GOES OFF!

BANG! “It’s all in your head.” BANG! “You’re a danger to society.” BANG! “You’re stupid and will never amount to anything.” BANG! “You’re a lazy scrounger.” BANG! “You’re spineless and weak.” BANG! “Come on, pull it together- it’s just a matter of willpower.” BANG! “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.” BANG! “You’re bonkers...off your trolley.” BANG! ” You’re ugly.” BANG! “Of course, nobody likes you.” BANG! “You’re a waste of space and better off dead.”

I hold myself captive

Of course, you might say I sometimes feel that way because I’m prone to depression, and you would be correct, but only in part. I would argue that if we lived in a more informed world where societal stigma, political indifference and judgmental ignorance were NOT ALLOWED to continually propagate negative and inaccurate mental illness stereotypes, people like me would:

  • Recognise (and not deny) the signs and symptoms of mental illness earlier.
  • Not hesitate to seek out proper professional help (as in see a Psychiatrist not your GP!) “…Lord help us she sees a quack!”
  • Stay on prescribed courses of treatment for the appropriate length of time - my initial fear wasn't so much rooted in getting help once I was diagnosed, as it was, in the fear of what other people would think of me once they found out I was getting help!.. hence, I was stupid enough to go on pills, off pills, on pills, off pills…
  • Obtain ‘need orientated’ multifaceted care, as opposed to well meant, but nonetheless limited ‘resource driven’ care that consistently finds itself on the top of governmental budget cuts.
  • Receive the understanding, acceptance, respect and support needed to help manage depression from friends, relatives, employers or teachers etc.

In short, if stigma was just simply an issue of public perception I might be tempted to say “oh whatever”, but it isn’t. An all too often invisible, yet powerful bully, it’s real menace lies hidden in the fact that it prevents people like me from seeking treatment, and that without question steals away hope, ambition, dreams and even in some cases, life itself.

No one needs to live in a world where the future is their enemy, or breathing nothing more than an obligatory survival technique that gets them through the day, and no-one needs to ever read another stupid headline that describes someone’s’ passing as “a successful suicide attempt”

Myth #3: People with mental illness are of no use to society and can’t hold down a job…

Fact: All I can say is, tell that to Winston Churchill, Tennessee Williams, Buzz Aldrin, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Lord Bragg, Dame Kelly Holmes, Charles Schulz, Sir Isaac Newton, Gail Porter, Mark Twain, Lenny Henry, JK Rowling, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Trisha Goddard, to name but a few.

So as scared as I am about what other people might think about me right now– let me state again … “I have a mental illness called depression.” I didn’t choose it, it chose me, but guess what – I’m choosing to talk about it.

Myth #4: Mental illness is fashionable and trendy

Fact: Not if you have it!

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