I’ve recently been diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress disorder and depression. My psychiatrist believes that I’ve probably had both conditions for about twenty years. Living with these diagnosis’ is in many ways very similar to living with something like diabetes. My illness is not to be taken lightly but I can mostly live a normal enough life so long as I look after myself properly, there are just some sets of circumstances which can trigger quite serious episodes and so I need to try to avoid them.
The only major difference is that PTSD and depression are psychological conditions, whereas diabetes is physical.
While the difference between these chronic conditions is only a minor distinction the differences in the reactions of other people towards suffers who disclose them can be significant.
On being told that a relative, friend or colleague has diabetes most people are unlikely to question the actual diagnosis. They may ask some questions to get a better understanding of what having diabetes actually entails but they would usually offer sympathy or support for the sufferer.
On the other hand, when I have disclosed my psychological illnesses most people have reacted quite differently. The conversation usually goes one of two ways.
Firstly, there are some people who on hearing any reference to a mental health problem automatically think, “Oh my god. This is a very ‘Big Deal’. Argh.” Then they panic, overreact and try to avoid any further discussion on the subject all together. Either because they think that it’s too difficult to talk about or because they’re worried that they might say the wrong thing and drive me to commit suicide.
While I do appreciate these people taking what I’ve told them seriously; I’m not a ticking time bomb with a big scary clock face, and I haven’t joined a new race of people who are made entirely of glass. The disaster has already happened. You’re unlikely to cause me any further harm without being intentionally impolite or insensitive.
The other frequent response is to flat out deny my diagnosis. – ‘You’re not depressed, X person (who’s absolutely nothing like us) is depressed, so you can’t be.’ – Or at the very least to insist that my current episode is just a minor aberration which will be completely over soon, then it will seem like it never even happened and we’ll never have to mention this unfortunate discussion again.
This one is frustrating because it’s very difficult to carry on a conversation, about anything, with someone who is living in their own, entirely different, version of reality.
The most helpful response would be the same as that received by our diabetes sufferer.
The problem is that I find it nigh on impossible to summon the energy to explain any of these things to anyone who isn’t already on the same page when I’m suffering with an episode. Which is when I really need it the most.
Which brings me to the reasoning behind Make-Up and Mirtazapine.
It aims to normalise the discussion of my mental health issues and set them into context with the rest of my life. I am not my illness. There are many different words that I would use to describe myself, but as neither ‘complex-PTSD’ nor ‘depression’ are adjectives, they do not define who I am.
I’m going to write about my experiences of being ill, as well as some general thoughts on mental well-being. There are a few things that I have learnt over the years that I hope could be useful to someone else, whether they have experienced any kind of mental health condition or not.
But I also want to write about other things, things that interest me from other areas of my life. I want to demonstrate that I am in fact a whole person, at least most of the time, and that being told that you have a mental health problem needn’t be seen as the end of the world. I hope that this might encourage other people, who may have been too afraid, to go and ask for help to get on with living.
As much as any drugs or therapy we all need something to be living for. I see no kindness in saving somebody so that they can simply exist. And when I’ve been at a low it’s always been the other things, the adjectives that do define me, that have slowly brought me back to life.
I’m open to discussing any comments or opinions that people have on what I post here, whether they agree with me or not. I would also welcome any suggestions of subjects to be written about or ideas for guest submissions.
If you would like to get in touch with me about any of the above, or anything else you might think of, you’re more than welcome to contact me. You’ll find a whole bunch of ways to get in touch with me here and here.