Something I’ve been happy to see around the internet is the number of people coming out and talking about their mental illnesses. It almost seems sometimes like the stigma is over… but it’s not. And sometimes I feel like there’s an even weirder image of mental illness portrayed that at some point, everyone gets depression, they blog about it and take some pills and everything gets better eventually. No big deal.
Yet mental illness is still killing people. And it seems like there are acceptable and less acceptable kinds of illnesses to have. Like you can have OCD… and everyone you know will be like “OH I’M SO OCD TOO! I totally have a thing about flushing toilets and when people don’t it’s SO GROSS, right?” But that’s cool. It’s JUST OCD. Or anxiety or depression. But while you need to admit your problems, you can’t talk about them too much. You can’t bring people down with them. You SHOULD come out about it but you shouldn’t make it seem like things are sad or scary or overwhelming. Just be brave and show everyone how it gets better.
I suppose that’s our preferred narrative for all things bad. We want to hear the stories of triumph. Or we want to hear the stories of utter tragedy and loss, followed by triumphant and defiant rebirth. We dislike stories of prolonged pain and suffering with no end, with no punctuated turmoil. We don’t want to hear about depression simmering in your brain, kind of ruining everything slowly and quietly, but not destroying everything. Discussing it like that is just a downer. It’s so depressing. SOOO EMO.
So while we are doing this really great thing where we stand up and say HEY! I AM MENTALLY ILL AND I AM NOT ASHAMED! We really still aren’t addressing what that means, at least I don’t think we are. Or at least I’m not.
I think it’s important to come out and discuss mental illness, but I’ve kept my own experiences relatively private. Which I am not proud of. Because I don’t keep anything private. I mean, I’ll mention casually that I have some anxiety issues or that I’ve been depressed or suffered postpartum depression (which is like the most acceptable mental illness on earth… I was surprised it was so horrible because it sounds so glamorous. I mean FFS Brooke Shields had it.) And when I’m having an especially bad day, I might tweet something alluding to it. But I’m not shameless about it like I am about tweeting a selfie from the toilet.
But today that ends, because women who write blog posts with images of themselves dry heaving Cholula are not women who have business being all “But I can’t talk about that… what if people judge me?”
I’ve suffered a lot. And I’m suffering now. And I’ve spent months trying to hold my life together because of crippling anxiety. I fear my email. I fear the phone. I fear talking to people. I have unmanaged ADHD which leaves me unable to get most things done or think clearly. And it’s depressing as hell. And I’m sad and I’m angry and I spend most of my waking moments fearing cancer. But right now, at this point in my life, it’s not even that bad comparatively.
Through my early 20s I was hospitalized repeatedly for suicide attempts. I self-mutilated for years. I try to pretend no one can see my scars on my arms… because I’m a grown up and cutting is such a drama-queen-teen thing… super embarrassing and not something respectable grown-ass women ever did in the past (and especially not as adults.) I was also hospitalized several times for eating disorders. As a grown up. Another thing I don’t mention because it’s hard for people to take you seriously as a former anorexic/bulimic when you’re morbidly obese. I did a lot of drugs. Tried rehab once.
And there was the PPD, but again, that’s a cool-kid mental illness. And everyone gets how you can be depressed when you’re tired and there’s a stranger in the next room who won’t stop crying if you stop showing her your boobs.
I talk about these things like they’re past and over, on occasion that I might mention them at all. But they’re still there. Even when they’re not actively destroying me, which they’re not. They’re still a part of my brain. The thought-scars are there. They still affect the way I’ve learned to view the world. It’s not drama and sadness then overcoming and healing and being stronger. Now it’s “what can I do with this today?” So to manage my anxiety, I run. It helps mostly to keep panic attacks in check, but general irrational fears are still overwhelming. To manage the other stuff, I do nothing and that’s hard and I know I should do something, but sometimes doing something is harder than just putting up with it.
I feel like my story isn’t the right story. Because it’s not hopeful and the bad parts are embarrassing and dramatic and put me out of “acceptable mental illness”… they’re still stigmatized. And yes, things are better, but they’ll never be great. I won’t even be one of those who OVERCAME!!!! So I don’t say much.
And I have a generally happy demeanor. Despite having horrible social anxiety, I’m still an extrovert. Once I can get over the part of being physically ill out of fear of being around people, it’s actually really fun for me to do it. And I feel good having done it. So it always seems a little unbelievable that I’m actually struggling or that it was ever so bad.
So there it is. It’s not exciting. It’s not inspiring. It’s not even interesting. But it’s real. And if I believe it is important for people with mental illnesses to talk openly about them, I can’t hide my own out of embarrassment.
Life is fucking hard. Brains aren’t good at this shit. That’s the way it is. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Do you struggle with mental illness? What do you think about the coming out stories? Are they helpful? Hurtful? Unrealistic? Do you discuss your own experiences? Do you discuss them in full or do you hide the more “embarrassing” ones? Do you think mental illness is easier for the skeptically inclined to cope with?