The stigma of Mental Health, how others see us.

Published October 8, 2014 by Crystal

More than one person, during my very lowest times, has said to me, or about me “She’s attention seeking” or “What a drama queen”.

I remember a particular time where things were horrid and someone I had previously considered a friend said “Well if you weren’t being such a bitch maybe this wouldn’t be happening.”

It cut.  It hurt.  On top of the pain and hurt I was already feeling. Because I didn’t want to be in the situation I was.  Nothing made sense from the moment I awoke to the moment I went to sleep.  The only constants I could rely on were my husband and my children, and even now I look back and am so grateful that I had a harbour during that time.  Because depression is not all I am.  But when depression hits it feels like it is all I am.  And I know it is no picnic for those close to me.  I cause worry.  But not because I intend to.

Since that lowest time that I can still recall, several of those critics have themselves suffered their own mental health issues, and have more understanding now of what it is like to be in the deepest pit conceivable, even when surrounded by friends and loved ones.

But before that experience of their own, they felt justified in their drama queen attention seeking comments.

And there is the rub.

Very few people, at least in my experience, can fully understand and empathise with a mental health sufferer unless they have been in even a vaguely similar situation.

And even then they can only understand as much as their experience has given them.  No one can fully get inside your head and see it from your perspective.

We are still in the infant stages, it feels, of raising awareness.  It may be now deemed unacceptable to call someone “mental” in a newspaper headline, and that is progress.  But I feel we are a long way off people understanding that depression is more than a feeling.  We are far away from removing comments such as “What have you got to be depressed about?” from day to day chat.

And my depression scares me.  Sometimes I feel I will never be a fully functioning adult.  I worry I will always be this fragile thing who will always be vulnerable to the whims of my depression demons.  Then I remind myself that this is the depression talking.  On the face of it, I don’t look like an ill person.  There are no visible scars that depression has left me with.

What do people see when they look at me?

On a good day?

On a bad day?

Is there a visible difference?

I guess sometimes there is, depending how hard it is to keep the mask on.  But other days I can fake it with the best of them.  And maybe that is something that adds to the stigma “But you look fine, what the hell is wrong with you?”.  Are we faking it to please others?  Would life be better if we, the ones dealing with mental health issues, were honest with exactly how we feel every day?  I don’t know about you, but a lot of my “faking it” is to protect not only myself from having to talk about depression, but also to protect those around me from how I am feeling.

Fortunately, I have been dealing with this for enough years now to know a little more the people I can talk to, and the people it is better to pretend to, and for me, I am ok with that situation.  Some people cannot handle a friend with depression.  And I guess that’s fair enough.

Baby steps, maybe?



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