“You should be writing about your experiences in the Guardian or something. You know, show people it’s nothing to be ashamed of…” a friend said to me recently.
I nodded. “Yeah. Maybe in a few months. Think I’ll just do the anonymous blogging thing for now though.”
Putting your name to an illness like depression is brave, courageous and generally bloody awesome. It shouldn’t have to be, but thanks to prevailing bad attitudes and stigma towards mental health, it is. Considering the Victorians thought depression in women was down to the ‘wandering womb‘, we’ve certainly come a long way in terms of how society views the depressed and anxious. If only curing my affliction was as simple as shrieking ‘Wench! Back in your box!’ at my nomadic uterus.
Campaigns like Time to Change and the wealth of celebrities speaking out about their experience of mental illness are doing brilliant things to oil the wheels of change when it comes to stigma. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
It’s definitely important not to hide your illness in the shadows. Talking about it helps and self shame and stigma only serve to reinforce society’s misunderstanding of depression. I do believe that those who have experienced a walk with the black dog are the ones who can truly debunk and stamp out unhelpful depression myths.
But often while we’re fighting the good fight we forget about the people behind the illnesses. And that reluctance to go public with your problems isn’t always indicative of shame. Depression and anxiety are physiological conditions in the same way heart disease and broken bones are. But they’re more personal.
People have very different ways of dealing with their emotions – some will reveal their problems to all friends, colleagues, bus drivers and woodlice within a ten mile radius, whereas others (me) are more private and need a bit of time and space to crawl out of the hole and heal first. Explaining what it’s like to go through depression to those that know you can be cathartic, and of course helps dispel mental health misconceptions, but it’s also exhausting.
Which is why the people that matter to me know what I’m going through, but everyone else is none the wiser. It’s why I’ll be writing about my experiences here, but I won’t be revealing my full name.
As long as I’m still in poor health and vulnerable, I plan on burying my head in the sand just a little bit longer. And I think that’s alright. Just as it’s OK to tell the world you have a mental illness, if you’re not ready it’s also OK not to.