If you suffer from mental health problems, how open are you about them to your friends and family? Those of us that blog and comment here in the online community that has come to be known as the Madosphere write candidly and in detail about our mental illnesses – but is this translated into our so-called real-lives?
For a long time, in my case, it wasn’t. I maintained a façade, where possible at least, that I was still a contentedly functioning member of the rat race, as sane as anyone else that has a similar way of life (albeit, perhaps, a little more cynical!).
Even when I became rather more open about having experienced, and about my experiencing, severe depression, I still withheld information from most people regarding the multitude of ways in which the other facets of my madness manifested. I tried to avoid mention of psychosis, dissociation and mixed episodes. I would certainly not reveal anything about the main issue that led to my having developed complex PTSD.
And as far as the latter goes, I doubt that I ever will – but that’s because it will ruin the lives of others, and there’s only one of them that even comes close to deserving that. However, the symptoms that I habitually experience are not going to directly impact upon most individuals – other than those that, due to their proximity to the situation, already know about and have seen frequent examples of the crazies anyway.
So one day, I thought, “fuck it. What am I hiding from? It’s me that has to endure this, and if others can’t deal with my reality, that’s their issue. I’m just going to be honest.” And I was. And I am.
The voices and visions, the amnesia, the GCHQ and other paranoias, the fugues, the simultaneous hysterical laughter and despairing tears. I’ve ‘fessed up to it all, and much more besides. Granted, it’s rare that anyone actually asks about specifics – but when they do, I tell them the whole truth.
If they choose to deride, stigmatise and make false assumptions based on erroneous and sensationalised information, then I correct their misguidedness. Most people mean well, I think, but are understandably apprehensive, thanks to the way our culture has demonised mental health trouble and attempted to brush all references thereto under the carpet. All you can do is to try and separate myth from fact, and show that despite ‘having issues’, you are still essentially ordinary. In my experience, people are more tolerant and accepting than you might originally think.
Of course, there are some who are truly disdainful of mentalness and will not be persuaded that you are not a knife-wielding freak, hell-bent on sadistically torturing everyone that crosses your path, no matter how much evidence you show them or normality you personally exhibit in their company. If people elect to maintain positions such as this, based only on moral panics, media sensationalism, and wilful ignorance, then I don’t need them in my life. Fuck them.
Yes, it sounds so easy written down here in nice, black-and-white words, and of course it’s not in practice. However, if you have a long-term mental health problem, there will probably come a time when you face a similar scenario: keep hiding behind an overpowering wall of shame to which you feel undeservedly bound, or break free of it, realising that you’re tired of the pretence, that you deserve better, and that you have nothing for which to be sorry.
You are not some sort of fucked-up, freakish aberration because you have a mental health difficulty. Some statistics state that the incidence of same is one in four in an average lifetime – I’ve read reports that dispute that, but regardless: the point is that the chances of experiencing mental ill health at least at some juncture are reasonably high.
How many people do you know – in general and overall? Even if we dismiss the one in four statistic and, for the sake of argument, adopt a much more conservative estimate of a lifetime prevalence of mental illness at a mere one in 10…well, anyone who’s ever studied, worked or even been part of an extended family is bound to know someone (else) with mentalist issues.
So why do we silence ourselves so? Do we do so in consideration of cancer or diabetes or migraines? Of course not, nor should we. But why are physical maladies considered the more acceptable relatives of mental ones, when the latter are arguably just as common? And how can an unconsciously ignorant society learn, en masse, that mental health problems rarely resemble the over-blown melodrama perpetrated by biased reporting and established stereotypes…unless we speak up to contradict them?
Of course, there are times when such honesty can destroy opportunities such as job interviews, the development of potential new friendships or partnerships, whatever. It may not always be possible to admit that you’re mental, and this is not a condemnation of people who choose not to be widely open about their conditions. I just wonder how we can eradicate stigma for good unless we have an open dialogue in public around issues of mental health, illness and recovery.
No where has this been better underlined to me than in this post by Lori at Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum. Lori’s husband, after a brief but serious psychosis, hanged himself in front of his wife and baby daughter.
In the linked post, she discusses her speech at his funeral. Had he spoken up, she wondered aloud, could he have been treated?
I can say nothing more prescient and eloquent than what Lori already has. If you are experiencing mental distress, if it’s too much to cope with, if you feel you have nowhere to turn – you do. Speak. Please, on this – World Mental Health Day – at least consider speaking up to help raise awareness of mental health problems. In a small but important way, you could well be helping millions of others that suffer in silence, and indeed yourself, when you speak.