September 11, 2013

Jungle Face JakeHow we communicate about illness is hindered by many factors. One factor that can make it harder for people to talk about illness in most cases is embarrassment.

I certainly know people who will never discuss my depression directly. Some friends know that I have it, yet if conversation meanders towards it there is often an uncomfortable exchange of embarrassed squeaks and then a desperate scanning of the room to see if someone is nearby to drag them away to the safety of nob jokes and lager.

It is much easier to nod and steer the talk towards some fluff

It is much easier to nod and steer the talk towards some fluff or to indulge in some ‘banter’ that shields you from the prospect of ‘getting involved’ in others’ affairs.

I know I feel the same, at times, when someone is talking about their job or hobby in anything but a passing statement.

If I don’t like their hobby or don’t know (or want to know) anything about their job then it can be lost on me. My friends do a variety of jobs ranging from the very interesting to what, for some, seem mind-bogglingly complicated and ultimately dull.

To understand the importance of that job chat to your friend is half the point. They are not alone in their endeavours and they have friends around them who appreciate their lives as more than a social front.

It is hard to show interest in something you don't understand

In reality it is hard to maintain that level of interest in something you don’t understand.

I feel I am generally an open person who will happily discuss all manner of life’s woes or joys with my friends. At varying points in my life I have been seen as an accessible agony aunt for friends and family of all ages and personalities.

Reversing that role has become more difficult as I have grown older. In part I think this can be attributed to a ‘learned’ behaviour, in that I have historically been the shoulder to cry on or giver of advice so I find it hard to spin that position and make a beeline to the nearest friendly shoulder.

I have a front that I have maintained for many years

I have a front that I have maintained for many years that has engraved itself so deeply on my being that, in the past, when that front has fallen, or worse been torn away by someone else, my ill-self has been known to react in a desperate and desperately destructive way.

This alone could be enough for someone to be reticent in disclosing illness. What makes it harder is that, when you do open up, some people will not, and do not, understand.

A couple of years ago I 'came out' as depressed

For example:

A couple of years ago I 'came out' as depressed to a group of close friends and immediately one of my closest friends came back with the suggestion that ‘It’s not that bad!’ and ‘You don’t seem depressed so really it’s just a matter of not letting it get to you’ and similar.

I don’t begrudge my friend for expressing this way of thinking. I know it was done through love and it is virtually impossible to understand the exact thinking going on in anyone’s head if you haven’t suffered in the same way; empathy stretches only so far.

This exchange didn’t bother me that much in that moment

This exchange didn’t bother me that much in that moment as I was carried on the adrenaline of having plucked up the courage to discuss it with my mates.

Over the next couple of years the meaning of the exchange developed.

I felt unable to instigate any chats about my head state, as they were pretty much dismissed then, or to get into the detail of why those statements were wrong. It doesn’t matter if I look ok, you will find people with depression can be very adept at hiding their inner feelings to a point where they can seem undetectable and when disclosed unbelievable.

I don't blame anyone for not understanding depression

That is part of the problem, you give yourself a persona that is almost the opposite of what is clawing away just behind your eyes, constantly scratching, making maintaining the persona your only way of maintaining a grasp on reality.

I don’t blame anyone for having a misdirected opinion of depression and how it affects people, because I have spent half a lifetime honing my skills in the art of mental deception.

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