Today’s Friday Gratitude is a bit different than usual. I joined up with Blog for Mental Health 2014 to talk about my experiences with mental illness. I know what you’re thinking: What does gratitude have to do with mental health?! Keep reading to find out:
I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma. [Lulu Stark]
In that pledge above, there is an important word: stigma. Stigma is what makes people suffering from trauma, abuse, mental illness, and disability want to hide. It makes them feel ashamed, embarrassed, or less than everyone else. I hid for a long time: I couldn’t even accept my own depression, much less expect anyone else to embrace it as part of me.
You know what’s even worse? Stigmas within stigmas. Imagine breaking your leg, an injury you have no control over, and you feel ashamed, because now you are different from everyone else. Now you have this thing that sets you apart, that limits your abilities and what you can accomplish everyday, just because you’re trying to work around that darn broken leg. Now imagine that society doesn’t really want to talk about that broken leg, and neither do your friends. People feel awkward about it, and so they avoid the topic entirely. This “works” only so far as assuaging their own discomfort. But meanwhile, you’re still pretty uncomfortable. You’re in a lot of pain, actually. You start physical therapy to improve your mobility, since it was a pretty bad fracture. Now you’re being proactive! You’re doing something to help your situation and work toward healing!
Here’s where the stigma within the stigma comes in: as soon as you start that treatment, you tell people that it’s working, and you’re going to keep doing it to continue on the road to recovery. And imagine that people you thought were friends, and much of the greater population in fact, questions you on your physical therapy: But have you tried this other thing? Do you have to go that far? It’s only for a short time, right? Consequently, you start to question what you’re doing to help yourself: Is this wrong? Why aren’t they being supportive? Why does it seem like they’re trying to make me feel bad about this?
Now imagine that you don’t have a broken foot, or any kind of visible illness or injury. Imagine that your condition is mental illness. The above scenario is exactly what I have experienced on my journey with depression and antidepressants. Can we please all work together to eradicate the stigma of not just mental illness, but of the medication that quite successfully treats that illness?
I am 31 years old and I have struggled with depression since I was in high school. I am on antidepressants to treat my depression.
That is how you eradicate stigma. You talk about it. You speak about your struggles with acceptance, not shame. You tell others that it’s okay to come out of the shadows, because they’ve got plenty of company. All over the world, people of all races, genders, socioeconomic classes, ages, and nationalities live with mental illness every day. And as much as they may need it, many people don’t have any access to treatment.
My gratitude for today? I’m grateful that I have health insurance and don’t have to pay for my medication. I’m grateful for my acceptance. I’m grateful that this Blog for Mental Health pledge exists, because it helps us build a sense of community, rather than keeping us hidden behind closed doors.
Some posts I have written on depression:
- Depression Feels Like This Part Two: A Conversation with My Husband, in which I ask my husband, Andy, a bunch of really tough questions. This is a conversation everyone who suffers from depression or other mental illness needs to have with their spouse and close family members: What do you experience watching me go through this? What can I do to make it easier for you?
- Depression Feels Like This, where I sing the praises of Hyperbole and a Half and explain how I identified with a novel about a woman with Alzheimer’s.
- Sunday Travel: Being Depressed While Traveling, where I drew on my experiences to post some tips to use when you have to deal with your depression on the road.
- In Support of Tears, when I realized I was writing about my mental health and other people were reading. Wow!
If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do. --Stephen Fry