Shame can stop us from talking about things. So can guilt. For people like me, who like to talk about almost everything, this can feel awful. Others wouldn’t dream of speaking about things close to their hearts, or buried down deep. Shame is not the same as guilt. [A very good book – John Piper’s Battling Unbelief – helped me understand the difference.] Misplaced shame is feeling bad about something when we are not actually at fault. Depression is a prime example. I know I initially felt ashamed to be diagnosed with it.
I’ve never been one to shy away from talking…about pretty much anything. I’m a legend at oversharing, faux pas, feet-in-my-mouth, socially awkward conversations. Sex? Politics? Religion? Yes, I’ll talk about all three, at once if you like, with people I have only just met. Well, I’m not quite that bad. But I’m close to it.
I’ve been upfront about my depression from the time I came to terms with my diagnosis. (I distinctly remember not being able to ring my parents when it first became a possibility that I had Post-Natal Depression (PND). Instead I sent a text message calling it ‘mild PND’. Bollocks. It wasn’t mild. But I didn’t want to scare them, and I didn’t want to be ‘weak’.) Once I became sure of the diagnosis, and understood it a bit better, I was unsurprised to hear that many people don’t talk about their depression. That was red-rag-to-a-bull for me, and I promptly decided I wasn’t going to hide it, minimise it, shy away from talking about it. This presented other issues of course. I do need to be a little bit careful who I unburden myself to. Even writing this blog gives me pause at times. Because depression can be depressing! And awkward. Mental illnesses in general are less well understood by the general populace (as compared with physical conditions). They are more confusing for sufferers too. Because mental illnesses change perception, even of themselves.
I’m emerging from the ‘mud’ these days. I have a bit more experience, and a bit more distance, and consequently clarity. That’s why I can write about it. If you had asked me to write this while I was in the thick of it, you would not have wanted to read it. I kept journals. Their raw contents are not fit for publication. I do intend to share some contents. But not yet. To be honest, they are scary to read. They are not me. They are another me.
Which brings us right back to the quandary of sharing. What to share, how to do it, and with whom? I don’t have all the answers. I do know that talking about depression is important. And I do know that others have found it helpful to read about it or to talk about it with fellow sufferers.
There is a growing feeling that the media also needs to play a part in removing the stigma of mental illness. There is a chance that media laws may soon change to allow suicides to be reported as such. Currently, the media refrains from reporting suicide, ostensibly for fear that it will encourage more people to attempt it. But this silence is not actually helping. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for young men in Australia.
A new men’s mental health campaign has recently started up here (http://softenthefckup.com.au/). I’m still a fence-sitter about its approach (it won’t suit many men). But I applaud the message: men need to unburden themselves of stress and despair rather than bottling it up until they can no longer stand it.
I’ve been reading a very graphic, moving blog lately which chronicles one young Aussie mum’s story. Lori’s husband committed suicide after suffering a violent psychosis and she is left with their two very young children. She is an advocate of talking. If you are feeling brave, her blog is here. It is not for the faint-hearted. This woman has guts. What she has been through is hideous, and I’m amazed that she can write about it. But she is helping others by doing so. Her message is: speak.
So I do. So we should. Obviously not out of our experience-zone, but definitely, at times, out of our comfort zones. Because when it comes to depression, there is no sense in blaming, or feeling shame. It is what it is. It is complex, and different for everyone, and it is personal. But recovery can be a community effort. And it starts with knowledge, awareness, and talking.