This time of year is always difficult for me. The monotony of winter takes its toll and I become a hermit, not leaving the house. I don’t see the point. I write funny essays and drop quips on Twitter, while pretending that everything is okay. The internet is a great cover. No one knows that I’ve been wearing the same sweats for a week while eating a diet comprised solely of baked goods and cappuccino.
I’ve been through this cycle for many years now. Eventually I remember that to be a badass I have to engage with the universe, get dressed in clothing with zippers and buttons and move forward.
Andrew Solomon’s TED talk spurred a much needed discussion about how to talk about mental illness, but even more importantly, emphasized the importance of talking about it, period.
Every time there’s a shooting, or a suicide, or some other tragedy, we talk about “what has to be done.” How do we get people the help they need? Why didn’t they tell someone? What did we miss? At the same time, we start labeling people. She must be bipolar. He’s schizophrenic, right? They were on meds. They weren’t on meds.
I had a disagreement with an acquaintance who implied that the medications used to treat psychiatric disorders were the root cause of mass shootings. That’s just what struggling people need. More shame and judgement piled on top of the mountain of crap they’re smothering under. Better not get help, because someone might find out. It’s much better to slog your way through, year after year, making yourself and everyone else around you miserable until it gets better. Unless it doesn’t.
This acquaintance didn’t know that I have dysthymia. I don’t hide it, but I don’t announce it either. So when I heard the TED talk and read the subsequent articles and discussions it occurred to me that those making generalizations are working from a faulty sample. It’s time for people living with mental illness and those who love and support us to step up and tell the rest of world to get over it. We are everywhere. You just didn’t know it.
Hopefully my friends and family will attest that I’m not the least bit scary, unless I haven’t been adequately fed. I’ve even been known to be intelligent, competent and somewhat funny on occasion. This is not because my depression is not a problem. This is because my depression is a problem that I deal with every single day. I actively manage it, so that it can’t control me.
I know I am not alone. When I talk about my experience with depression, invariably someone tells me that they’ve sought treatment at some point or another. At the same time, someone else will say “But your life is so great.” I merely respond, “It is, but I still feel like shit. That’s how I know it’s depression and not just that my life sucks.” “Just focus on your blessings,” they say. Really? I wouldn’t tell a diabetic, “If you put your mind to it, in no time you won’t need that insulin at all.”
So I’m publicly owning my depression. Honestly, with as effed up as our world is these days, I’m more suspicious of people who can’t acknowledge they’ve lost their shit once or twice. If society can make a sex-symbol out of high-functioning sociopathic Sherlock Holmes, surely it can see the rest of us with mental illness a little more objectively.
And perhaps someday we’ll look back and see that stigmatizing people because of mental illness was just plain crazy. Until then, speak up. I’ve got your back.