My Mental Health And Experience With Depression

I’ve often advocated for mental health stigma to be abolished – I even started a short story competition about it – but I’ve never talked about my own mental health, not officially anyway. It could be best described as marginal.

When I took that psychometric test and had the job offer rescinded, while I continue to oppose the use of psychometric tests as a filtering tool, I don’t disagree wildly with the findings, which asserted that I was highly intelligent and highly emotionally unstable. It’s true that I don’t belong to the middle of the line. The extremes of emotion are not so overwhelming now as they were when I was younger, when they burned inside me like a forest fire and I found it hard to deal with the resulting breakdowns.

When talking about their depression, people usually say what it is like. Mostly they relate feelings of anhedonia and inertia, where they withdraw from everything. Mine is more like the volume turned up than down. I get restless and tight in the chest, turn savagely self-critical, react very extremely and have to struggle far more to stay in control. In the past, I would psychologically lash myself for my lack of boundaries – one of my triggers was that I was too open, something I would flagellate myself for – then set the vicious circle going again by inappropriately confiding in people since I had no boundaries. I wanted to connect, and didn’t know how.

I have gone to counsellors and currently visit a CBT therapist on occasion, but have only been on anti-depressants once. That was twelve years ago. I don’t understand the hushed horror people have about anti-depressants when 1 in 4 people scarfs them back at some stage. In my personal experience only, (please consult your doctor about the best way for you!) they have their advantages and disadvantages. They take a while to work and have strong side-effects, but the main advantage is that people are less in your face, I don’t know if that makes any sense? It’s as if you were born without a layer that other people possess and the layer is restored. You don’t take things as personally.

Well I have no layer now, but generally I do fine. I just get frustrated that sane people, those who possess a layer, don’t understand that living life without that precious asset is effectively negotiating life’s demands with one hand tied behind your back at all times. (Though it may help when writing, I’m not sure of that one.) That’s why demands on people like me to just “change” or “cope better” are infuriating, because they are usually made by people who have that advantage to start with. If I can do well in my workplace and write a book and nourish my personal life, I humbly suggest that’s not bad going.

The reason I am talking about my mental health today is that on a certain forum a certain topic was discussed which is controversial due to legal “advice” from certain parties. This matter concerns a very bright, talented and inspirational young woman who had to deal with depression and is sadly no longer with us today, but whom I personally look up to and admire, and who has inspired me in the life decisions I make. On this forum, when the affair concerning this woman was brought up, the moderator snapped back instantly that it was not necessary to “drag up that whole sorry affair” and that the topic should stay “parked”.

That is the message they are giving to Our Tribe – that we are a “sorry affair” who should be “parked” because our sufferings are an inconvenience to industry, lawyers and the body politic. That our attempts to cope with stigma which sane people put on us are an unseemly distraction to the topic at hand. The scorn and sanity privilege expressed are immense and horrific.

Well I’m afraid that’s just not good enough. I am a woman who lives with depression and marginal mental health. I work and pay my taxes (though there are many who cannot right now in spite of being willing and they too deserve respect) I contribute to the artistic life of this country, I volunteer on a mentoring scheme for other writers and…do you know what, screw it, it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t do any of those things. I’m still not a “sorry affair” to be “dragged up” and scorned and despised in this way, and neither was the woman who has inspired me to write this post, may she rest in peace.

And I most certainly will not be “parked”.

Right. Now we’ve established that, anyone for discussing UTIs? Anyone?

Addendum: Among the overwhelming kindness and support, for which I thank everyone, I’ve been receiving some small bit of commentary that I should tweet less, that I’ve said enough, that I should leave it, rise above it, that they’re only thinking of my own welfare. People who say such things should reflect that their sanity is a gift and a privilege they have received by genetic good luck, not some testament to their superiority of character. They have no inborn right to shut me down.

Don’t feel proud. Because believe me you could fall at any time. You could fall short at any time. There are no guarantees, none.

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13 Comments

  1. Bravo, Susan for speaking out! I shouldn’t have to say that it is a brave person who speaks openly about their suffering from mental health. I wish there were more people like you. Working, writing and teaching others. An inspiration!

    1. Thank you, Carolann, for saying that I inspire 🙂 that cheers a lot.

      The mental health is not, thankfully, too brave a revelation. I talk to work colleagues about the psychometric test nonsense all the time and am open about my advocacy for mental health. I made a conscious decision not to apologise for any of this because of *her* and her example and integrity. I decided to keep my life and work in alignment and not be false to myself or try to be anyone I’m not. None of this is, or should be, an impediment to behaving properly and professionally in the right setting and undertaking my work with diligence.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. There is one unfortunate caveat. Although I might seem brave, I’m not really. I’ve been told not to mention a certain person which will bring attention to a certain contentious matter. For the time being I must abide by this request and that is why I have kept all references to the matter in my post entirely anonymous, to avoid any potential repercussions for those who have supported my writing career. So there is one name I must either ask you to redact from your post or revert to her initials, if you wish to link to this post.

      Abiding by this provision is proving increasingly hard for me – and I’m deeply sorry for the emotional burden it imposes on you in turn – but for the time being I must do it 😦

      Je suis Charlie – haha, you’ve gotta be joking!

  2. Thanks a mil. Sorry I had to ask you to do that, I demeaned myself in doing so and I’m sorry – and it’s not the first time. Hopefully, in the way that this rotten country works, everyone will know whom I am speaking of and whom you and I honour.

    I hope your mental health soon improves and in the meantime that you feel the support of many who comment here.

  3. Perfect, Susan, thank goodness you speak out. The topic of mental health/challenge seems still so underground and there is great difficulty in accessing compassionate and realistic assistance in a straightforward way. If we had a cold or broke our legs fine but anything mental health wise is still fraught with stigma and lack of understanding all the way from stress, depression to my son’s Aspergers. Keep being an advocate.

    1. Thank you, Alison. Keeping the show on the road can be hard at times, especially when there is anxiety to deal with too, our own or that of our loved ones. And there are a lot of powerful people whose interests it is in to cut us no slack. That makes me angry more than anything. Good to hear from you again, btw.

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