A week or so ago there was a Twitter hash tag trending. This means, for those who aren’t members of the twitterati, people using twitter across the world were writing short microblog posts on a similar theme, linking them by a repeated phrase starting with an #. It was trending, which means lots of people were using it at the same time. The hash tag was #nostigma. Tweets abounded as people talked about depression and mental illness.
I toyed with joining in but wasn’t sure. Partly as most people who know me have been bored to tears I expect by my depression talk which is either naval gazing or horrific. But also as behind this self-deprecating defence lay a nub of something else. Shame. A big hard nutty nub of shame and fear.
I know the drill, don’t get me wrong. Depression is an illness just like any other. Mental illness is physical (unless your brain doesn’t count as an organ any more). There should be no worry over anti-depressants as you’d have a plaster for a cut or take drugs for cancer or if you broke your leg. There would be no shame over a broken limb, why feel ashamed if your head is a bit broken. These are all true, after a fashion. All things being equal they are how we are supposed to think. This was the point, after all, of the hash tag itself. Dissolve the stigma; be honest.
And I’m an educated liberal minded type who prides myself on trying to avoid the sort of thinking which would collude in the stigma. I hate that sort of thing. I don’t think people who are depressed etc are different from the rest of us.
But I sometimes want to shout, IT ISN’T THE SAME AS A BROKEN LEG as no-one, no-one, NO-ONE is even slightly uncomfortable or embarrassed, or challenging if you have a broken leg. There isn’t any slight sense that you should not talk about it, bemoan the pain, speak about how it affects your life.
I say this knowing it could make me sound terribly ungrateful for the simple kindness and support I have been so lucky to receive from so many friends and family. Good people who’ve listened and behaved in exactly the way the #nostigma campaign and similar are encouraging us all to. Who really have not, even once, made me feel like a total twat for getting so mind-knotted.
I’m not ungrateful, but I am a bit embarrassed. And annoyed with myself for being embarrassed, but slightly something (defensive? protective?) of that bit of myself too. It is okay, I tentatively suggest, to be overwhelmed and humiliated by your private torment and to feel uncomfortable and ashamed to admit that you don’t adhere to an image, not of perfection, but of basic normality. That you cannot think straight and need help to do it. That you are on a downer and don’t know if you’ll ever climb back up.
In the end I did tweet. I put ‘I have suffered from depression. And other more embarrassing illnesses’. This is true. Go to the knackered snatch clinic and cough to pee as part of your assessment and you’ll know what I mean. But I felt a little bit of a fraud and not a little scared, yes, shamefully, of what people would think.