I have suffered on and off from depression for over 10 years but have, in spite of serious losses, soldiered on and I am now a professional facilitator of well-being. When I saw an opportunity to write a blog I was excited to share my experiences to help others.
When I read that the purpose of the blog was to share experiences of stigma I became less enthused. I didn't think I had any examples and so had second thoughts.
Suddenly it popped into my head that the reason why no examples came to mind was because I had experienced mental health stigma so consistently and for so long that I no longer ever thought about it as an issue.
Having to hide the emotional difficulties I experienced had become a way of life. When I was first prescribed anti-depressants during my gap year at the age or 19 I was determined to make sure nobody found out. This was in-spite of the fact that I was abroad and lonely and desperate to have someone to share my difficulties with.
I think people feel better saying that it is only from a lack of self-confidence that one is reluctant to be open and share the truth about their emotional state. That the fear of being judged is only in our minds and that in fact there would be no negative effects at all from sharing the truth. But from my experiences ....that is sadly not true.
I was 19 years old. It was my gap year. I had gone abroad to study with a few friends and having already been there 5 months I had made a lot of new friends as well.
I was well known and well liked. I was confident, funny, energetic, smart and opinionated (in that good way!) and a talented singer (which made me even more popular...I still don't get why that should be the case but that was the way it was). That was the way everyone there saw me including the lecturers. And that felt great.
Then, as if from no-where, these feelings overcame me
Then, as if from no-where, these feelings overcame me. Feelings that were so bad that I was mostly unaware of the thoughts that must have been creating them.
These all consuming negative feelings began slowly but built up a fairly rapid momentum that meant, within just a couple of weeks, I went from the girl everyone knew and loved to "has anyone seen Sarah lately?" My room-mate obviously saw a change in me and tried a few times to speak to me but I shut her down saying that there was no point in speaking, no one could help me.
But everyone else, my 5 other flat mates along with probably another 20 or so friends on campus, literally were asking around "where is Sarah"?
I couldn't explain to anyone else
You see we had this unused "storage" room that was occasionally used to hang up laundry but was primarily abandoned. This is where I escaped. I would crouch on the floor and just cry, rock and cry and want to die. I couldn't explain the feelings I was having to myself let alone to anyone else.
All the friends I had there (probably over 20 girls) all had hearts of gold, and I was fully aware of this. I knew that they would want to help me. But I thought that if anyone saw me in that state...they would decide they were in way over their heads, they would as I saw it "give up on me" and feel that their only option was to call the head of the university to take over the situation.
I didn't want to be labelled as "sick Sarah"
I couldn't face that. I was already suffering so deeply I couldn't bear the thought of being considered too insane to comfort and re-labelled from the fun and easy going Sarah of the past 5 months, to the "sick Sarah".
Somehow I felt that no matter what healthy side people saw of you or for how long, as soon as your unhealthy side made an appearance - that was who you really were.
I was desperately trying to hold onto the complete opposite: that the healthy Sarah is the real me and the depression is not me and, with a little time, love, support, patience and confidence from others, it would soon die away to once again reveal the true Sarah.
I needed some love and support
I really felt that as long as I didn't have to face a new label of "sick Sarah", I could brave the storm of the depression and then, once the storm cleared, walk out of that storage room with my head held high, no-one the wiser! In order to get through the storm...I needed some love and support.