April 23, 2012

Attitude: it's all up to youOne of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had to have came when I decided I had to tell one of my best friends about my battle with depression.

The first day I settled on telling her, I couldn’t. I had built myself up, all ready to state the fact, and then to answer the questions that I knew would come later.

As she was training to be a youth worker, I was fairly sure that she’d understand, be non-judging and supportive while also inquisitive.

You all know how the conversation goes:

Me: “Hello”
Her: “Hi”
Me: “How are you?”
Her: “OK, you?”
Me: “only OK?”
Her: “... someone who used to go to my parents’ church killed himself” ... erm, right. Not what I expected to hear.

It’s about choosing who you tell, when. And how.

How can you tell someone that you suffer from depression after that? It’s hardly the right time. Sometimes it’s a balancing act of trying to decide when to be selfish enough to share your burdens with someone, and when they have quite enough on their plate right now already. It’s about choosing who you tell, when. And how.

I ended up telling this particular friend the next day, because she sensed that I wanted to tell her something. When I told her that I had been struggling with it for a few years, her response was “how come you never told me? ... I’m picking up on stuff that makes sense now ... I’m sorry”.

 I find that people really don’t know what to say

The fact that she felt that she had to apologise for not realising that I was not coping made me feel even worse. I find that people really don’t know what to say, and as a result, I’ve only told 8 people (other than the GP) about how tough I find life sometimes. The reactions I’ve had have varied between “I knew it!” to just a brush off. It’s difficult to predict, and I am well aware that this is why the number of people who know about my struggle is quite low.

As I go through the ups and downs, I often wonder if sharing my diagnosis with others would be a good idea. It’s usually as I start to go into a low point, or come out of one, that I most want to tell people, because that’s the stage at which I am able to know that I need support. But then I encounter the bit that I find most difficult: approaching the subject in the first place.

In continental Europe, people seem to be fairly open about their depression

As a student studying abroad for a year, I am removed from my usual support network, have the added stress of trying to deal with studies in a different language and trying to work out a different culture and the cultural perceptions around mental illness. In continental Europe, people seem to be fairly open about their depression. When people ask “How are you?” it is sincerely meant, and is an invitation to actually say how you are, unlike in Britain, where the ‘correct’ answer is “oh, I’m fine/alright/well thank you, how are you?”.

How do you “come out” to those people who you care about, and who care about you? When is the “right time”?

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I have very few. But I hope that when I find the right time, and the right words, the people I tell will have the right attitudes.

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