“It’s all about openness, really.”
“Yeah, you know, we just need to be fighting the stigma. Talking about stuff. Not being ashamed. That’s the only way things are going to change.”
“Once you start talking, it just gets so much easier. It’s so important to be open about these things.”
“Being in the middle of a depressive episode is just as valid a reason for missing a morning of work as throwing up from food poisoning.”
… … … … … … … … … …
All things said by me.
(imagine these sentences being said in a slightly patronising voice, probably with a little hand gesture of “brushing aside those silly old fears”)
These phrases were not so much insincere as they were simply untenable. At least they were not intentionally insincere – I honestly believe them to be true.
Then why, upon recently hearing my doctor utter the words “breast cancer clinic”, “mammogram” and “biopsy”, did I feel a kind of relief (together with the “I’m going to be sick, please don’t stick a needle in my boob” sensation)?
Internal dialogue: This is crap. But at least this is something real. What do you mean, real? You know, real, like solid, you know, really there. As opposed to? Oh you know what I mean, just not like that mind shit. Mind shit? Yeah, the stuff in your head…I know it makes you ill but, you know, some people have tumours and things – real shit.
Maybe the same reason I said that yes, I really did intend my hair to look like this…. I absolutely did not lop random bits off in a fit of sadness and frustration.
Perhaps the same reason I have lied about feeling sick, rather than admit that I can’t face eating in front of people today.
The same reason I pretend to hate exercise, because most people will probably find a violent bout of self-loathing to be a strange result of a very short run.
….they don’t need to know how messed up your head is. Because that’s what it is, messed up.
We know that mental struggles are legitimate. We know that they are largely beyond our control. We know that they are equally as worthy of treatment and healing time as other conditions. Why do we know it, but not really believe it?
Doctor: “So, what can I do for you today?”
As embarrassing as it was as a British person to say the word breast (prudes that we are… quite a Miranda-esque moment), and then have a 55-year-old man essentially feel me up, I felt no shame in taking off my top and bra and lying down on the rather squeaky hospital bed. (strangely the most concerning thing to me at the time was the fact that I was still wearing my Converses. A nipple free-for-all but still wearing shoes and socks…. it just felt wrong.)
As scary and uncomfortable as it was and, as much I normally do my best to avoid exposing my boobs in public (contrary to some reports), there was not an ounce of shame in me. Never did it cross my mind that this was something to hide or feel remorseful about, or that possible necessary treatments would somehow reflect badly on me.
It would be great if the same were true of “undressing” in the emotional sense, of being open about your mental state and what you need to keep your mind well. For most, though, this probably still isn’t the case.
Despite exclamations to the contrary, needing the help of anti-depressant medications hurts my pride. I feel guilty for needing to have somebody around or pushing people away, for requiring so much of those around me. It shames me that although I proclaim (and truly believe) that Jesus loves me and that there is power and freedom in His name, I don’t always live in that freedom. It seems such a waste. I hate myself for becoming obsessive about and possessive of the people and things that are bright spots in dark times (just like stars). I resent the paranoia, selfishness and fear that take hold of me so often.
I guess this brings us back to the frequently made point that, compared to other conditions, mental illness – at least in linguistic terms – seems all-encompassing.
One does not become cancer, but one does become depressed. We are not broken arm or boob lump, but we might be bi-polar. These illnesses grow into a defining characteristic; we meld seamlessly together with them to become one. What is it, and what am I? I am, in fact, an illness. If we are one and the same, it follows, then, that I must be the root of all this. I must be inherently weak, or maybe even bad. To be uncovered would be disastrous.
We know that this is simply untrue, but I fear I’m not alone when it comes to such internal conflicts. Perhaps a huge proportion of people dealing with mental illness and mental scars in some way condemn themselves for not being able to “get it together”, as if they are ultimately at fault for whatever they are experiencing. When you don’t have a scar or a lump to point to, it’s hard to know where to place the blame and direct the punishment.
We can’t quite be okay with not being okay.
You might see me walking naked in the street tomorrow.
Whether we’re talking about a lack of clothes or a lack of fear is uncertain, but if it’s the former, you’ll hear the screams and know to run.