When I started taking antidepressants for the first time last year, I was scared of what people would think. Whilst I knew, rationally, that there is no shame in taking medication for a health condition, I was flinching away from the imagined reactions of those who knew me.
I told a select few. Partially because I was advised to, and as an advocate for mental health, it would have been hypocritical of me to stay quiet.
Later, it slipped out to a housemate I hadn't planned on telling. With a look of amused confusion on their face, they said: “What do you have to be depressed about?” I’ve asked myself that same question so many times, scolding myself for struggling whilst I live my relatively comfortable, privileged life.
This is not the first time I have been told I have no right feeling depressed. For years I have had to defend myself against suspicion and disbelief when I’ve tried opening up about my reality.
Every one of my friends has reacted in shock when I’ve told them how I feel, unable to fathom that the social butterfly could be in such pain.
“Are you sure you need antidepressants?” they asked me.
In my first year of university, I booked a counselling appointment out of sheer desperation. I felt so hopeless. I sat in that chair, confessing that I had self-harmed again for the first time in months, that I’d been purging out of fear I’d eaten too much. My days were grey and bleak, and I spent them crying, in a perpetual state of stress, anxiety, and irritation. I was suffocating.
They told me that there was no evidence of any depression. They said I was fine, actually, because I had good grades and a friendship circle. And with that, I was dismissed.
I’ve begun to realise how much I have internalised this stigma. There is a growing contradiction between the empathy and understanding I hold for other people who deal with mental health issues and the way I critique and disregard my own experience. I know antidepressants are often viewed with derision; a weak, easy get out for your problems. I don’t agree. But I heard it so much, I started to question if I was choosing the easy route out; if I was really ‘bad enough’ to take pills. So, I stopped taking them.
My mental health plummeted. I was plagued by intrusive thoughts of suicide. You should never stop taking your medication without talking to a doctor first. I'd put myself in a dangerous situation because of stigma.
Anxiety is an expert in making me second, triple, quadruple guess myself. It makes it hard to trust my thoughts. This is exhausting at the best of times, but when I have society reflecting my worries, I become overwhelmed with niggling, negative, gnawing thoughts telling me I’m being dramatic, telling me I’m making it up, that I’m exaggerating.
I get out of bed most mornings, so how can I be dealing with depression? I’m the person people come to for advice, the agony aunt, not the one who needs support.
Inspirational quotes about choosing to be happy make me feel weak and pathetic. If it’s a choice, why do I feel so suffocated by the black cloud of sadness? Why am I moping about, wasting my life? Why can’t I do what’s so easy, what others manage?
“You can’t love unless you love yourself” makes me wary of my friends and to pull away from my boyfriend before he pulls back himself. I self harm because I hate myself for failing and not thriving as I should be. When I am experiencing one of my mild high periods, I convince myself that I fabricated the despair I felt.
Humanity places huge amounts of responsibility and blame on people with mental health problems. It’s our fault we feel this way, a choice, we hear. We just aren’t trying hard enough to get better. This kind of rhetoric can seep into your psyche like tar, telling you they're right.
The way society views mental health is changing. We are talking more and more, showing people that it is ok not to be ok, that it can happen to any of us. Stigma is being chipped away at. But we still have such a long way to go.
We have to talk about how easy it is to turn this stigma on ourselves. For me, the scariest stigma I’ve faced is not from family, friends, colleagues, or doctors. It’s the stigma I face inside my mind.