“Bad enough to be ill, but to feel compelled to deny the very thing that, in its worst and most active state, defines you is agony indeed.” ~ Sally Brampton
Some time earlier this year, I can’t remember exactly when, around the time that Germanwings pilot deliberately crashed his plane, I decided that I couldn’t be bothered to hide my mental health problems any more.
Not even in the office.
It was just too much hard work.
Since covering it up involves being economical with the truth, if not outright lying, you have to be constantly vigilant about the language you use to describe how you’re feeling or how you’ve been. You have to remember what stories you’ve previously told to who to keep your stories straight. You have to spend precious energy on making sure that you don’t act crazy or depressed, even when all you are right now is crazy or depressed.
Then, because you have to be able to talk to somebody, you agonise over who you might be able trust and how much you can get away with telling them.
All of which involves time and effort, so much time and effort, that would be better spent on addressing the actual problem.
Most of the people who see me in person on a regular basis were aware that I was sick already, but I hadn’t kept my wider circle of friends and acquaintances in the loop, and nobody but my immediate line manager at work knew.
I started, as is the way these days, by ‘outing’ myself on Facebook. Where the response from people who engaged with what I’d written was all very positive. There were also a bunch of people who I would have expected better from who unfriended me suspiciously soon after the post went up; there was even a GP who sent me a message first telling me that I was being a typical manipulative, attention-seeking mental health patient before doing so, but, yeah fuck them.
The thing is, nice though they were the positive responses didn’t really affect me much more than the negative ones because I’m okay with the fact that I have this now. Obviously given the choice I’d rather it went away, but I’ve adjusted to the fact that it’s here, it’s a part of who I am. Some people are going to accept that, some people won’t, but that’s the same for any other facet of my personality. And that’s all okay.
And then I stopped talking vaguely about being ill and started putting the names to what was actually wrong with me.
When I was anxious, I said so, when I was struggling with my depression I asked for help, when I was feeling generally unstable, I talked about it.
I stopped claiming I was taking the afternoon off because I had ‘a hospital appointment’ whenever I needed to see my psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, key worker, or therapist and started being honest.
And the worst thing anybody said, to my face at least, about any of it was; “………………Er….Okay…”.
I think because for the most part and at the very least people don’t want to be dicks about it.
But the best thing is, where when I got my diagnosis I was the only person I knew who had mental health problems, since I started talking about my mental health as openly I do almost every other part of my life I know a bunch of people who have anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar, and other stuff.
And they’d always been there, they’d all just been hiding in exactly the same way I had. If we’re more open it’s so much easier to find each other.
Believe me, I know that it’s a difficult conversation to have, and I know there’s still a lot of stigma; but I feel I’ve done more to challenge that with each conversation where I’ve casually mentioned that I’m seeing a psychiatrist or I have a personality disorder than everything I’ve ever written about mental health.
Those people who thought they didn’t know anyone who needed to see a psychiatrist or had a whole list of mental health diagnoses either now have a picture of little old me when they think of someone who does.
And I’m about as scary as your average hamster.
I’m not suggesting that you start talking about it for those people though, or even for the other people like you, I’m gently suggesting that you do it for yourself. Just because being honest and being yourself is so much easier, throwing off the cover feels so much lighter and freer.
And starting conversations doesn’t just have to be about mental health, it can be about anything you really want to have a conversation about but don’t feel as though you can, or think that you’re not supposed to.
I started the hashtag #haveyouhadanorgasm to talk about women and orgasms and what we even mean when we talk about sex because it was something that I wanted to ask all the women I knew about but didn’t think it was socially acceptable to do in person.
I can’t be the only person who wants to have that conversation though because plenty of women responded to my question on twitter and by email; and the #haveyouhadanorgasm post along with a slightly earlier one about women and consent are already amongst the top ten most read and shared things I’ve ever written.
And whatever it is you’re wishing you could ask or tell someone about is likely something other people would love to talk to you about too, they just waiting for someone else to be brave enough to start the conversation.
So while it’s the season of good food, good wine, and good conversation why not make that brave person you? Why don’t we all seize the initiative and start some conversations of our own over Christmas?
And use the hashtag #StartAConversation to tell us how it went.