A colleague from the HIV/AIDS project I worked on in Angola was insistent on the matter of auto-estigma, self-stigma. Don’t assume, she taught me, that just because a low-budget sex worker has HIV she disagrees with the normal attitudes about HIV. I wonder how she feels about herself?
Feel also for your frightened colleague who thinks he has HIV but wonders why he should confirm his fears, lay claim to a slice of the stigma and turn all his prejudices on himself. Five months ago, I admitted to myself that I was depressed. Before that, although I regarded myself as caring and tolerant, I had a very unhealthy attitude to mental health. No worse than most people’s attitude, maybe, but not positive.
Mentally ill meant the teenager who freaked out on the bus and knifed the old woman who asked him to turn his music down. Depressed meant bored housewives downing their first gin before the lunchtime news. There were some hushed rumours at junior school about another kid’s mum who had a nervous breakdown and spent a summer holiday at one of several local mental hospitals.
I was ‘a bit highly strung’ and ‘over-sensitive’ even as a tomboy kid. Since I was about fourteen, I’d assumed people didn’t like me until I was very sure they did. My work appraisals always said I held myself to unrealistically high standards, but I thought it said good girl work long hours.
Self-stigma: powerful drug, on tap for free in your head
Most of my adult life I’ve cried, a lot, typically in a remote or private toilet at work where nobody I cared about would know. I started falling apart in 2008 and started rebuilding earlier this year. Self-stigma: powerful drug, on tap for free in your head.
In the last four years I had three miserable relationships (two bosses, one lover), hurt somebody who loved me, fell into a new lifestyle and met a wise, wonderful man who now officially knows I’m depressed but still loves me anyway. In 2012 I’ve been working on understanding, accepting and appreciating myself even though I have a mental health problem.
So far, though, I’ve only come out about it to two other people
So far, though, I’ve only come out about it to two other people. One actually: ‘I know I’m depressed, idiot, but my real problem is still you’ in mid-argument with my boyfriend. It wasn’t quite the same as figuring it all out first then gathering the courage to talk about it. I genuinely did tell my best friend but she knew the gruesome bits of my life story anyway and I already knew about her mental health issues.
There are reasons why other close friends and family haven’t been checked off the list yet: the right opportunity, how to start and what to say, certainly; but mainly because it seems unessential that they know. I accept myself, I have 24/7 support from the person I live with and my best friend loves me. Also, I’m letting myself groove for a while on other human relationships getting easier.
My light-bulb moment about depression had been a good twenty years coming
My light-bulb moment about depression had been a good twenty years coming. The immediate release went something like: oh, depression eh, wow, but then I had a wonderful month of euphoria. Within a couple of days I was sure the worst of the battle was behind me.
Despite some setbacks, I’m determined not to spend the next 42 years fighting the rest of a tired, old fight against myself. I haven’t yet worried about how else I’m going to deal with my issues, instead of fighting myself over them. I’m just happy to be light from accepting them. My dog calls that progress.
Just being able to use the word depression... feels liberating
Dealing privately with my ignorance and prejudice about depression in particular and mental health in general has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Just being able to use the word depression, empathetically, around my boyfriend, the dog, strangers who strike up conversations about their own experiences, etc., feels liberating. Being able to chuck so much small, annoying crap in mental shredders marked ‘depression’ and ‘issues’ without even reading it makes more difference to my quality of life than I would ever have imagined.
Time to Change was the first supportive place I found a couple of years ago when I was starting to wonder about moving on and getting my deceptively normal, successful life off the skids. I had to make excuses to myself then about understanding a friend’s issues before I felt comfortable reading your website and joining your Facebook group. So thank you for being there.