With Mental Health Awareness Week drawing to a close in the UK I thought I would round off this week of blogging by putting to rights some of the most common misconceptions that surround those who suffer with depression and other mental illnesses.
1. We are just feeling sad or sorry for ourselves
So this is a common mistake that people who haven’t had any experience of mental illnesses make. Feeling depressed and suffering with depression are two completely separate things, not one and the same.
Feeling a bit depressed is for all intents and purposes the same as saying you’re feeling a bit down in the dumps. Suffering with depression is a different kettle of fish altogether. It’s a mental illness that can last a lifetime and not something that you can just snap out of by “Manning up” and going for a few pints. It doesn’t work like that.
How you feel when you suffer with depression varies from person to person. In my case I sometimes feel excessively happy or high and that might last for a few days. But I always know that eventually I’m going to come crashing back down spectacularly and then I’ll feel like utter shit for a few days. I’ll have little interest in anything other than staying in the house where it’s safe and avoiding people. Normally I’ll suffer with severe ‘Headsqueeze’ or to put it another way my head will feel like it has been put in a vice that’s being tightened up by a totally sadistic bastard who wants nothing more than to cause me as much pain as possible. Also during these low episodes I’m very likely to flip out and fly off the handle at the most insignificant thing and over-react on a grand scale. There’s an absolute shit ton of anger inside my head that’s constantly boiling away until it just can’t boil anymore. And so it explodes as a way of releasing the pressure. Once that pressure has been released I’ll usually feel even worse and like I’ve had enough of everything, which isn’t helped by the fact that I’m tanked up on so many meds that I’m permanently exhausted.
That’s how depression feels to me. But like I said it’s different for everyone. I think that’s why I get a bit annoyed with the way depression is treated by my local mental health partnership and portrayed by certain ignorant media outlets. There isn’t a “One size fits all” solution for treating it.
2. We’re never happy
Not true. I feel as happy or as sad as the next person does depending on what’s happening at that particular moment in time. Right now for example I’m sat outside in my garden writing this blog and I feel relatively calm and cheerful. Later on I might encounter something that increases my stress levels and puts me on edge. Tomorrow I might go and see a film that makes me feel sad and want to cry.
Suffering with depression doesn’t mean you’re permanently walking round with a miserable face on, completely incapable of raising a smile. But at the same time it doesn’t mean you’re incapable of feeling the entire range of human emotions either.
3. We’re just being lazy and don’t want to work
How many of you reading this want to be signed off work for months on end, spend countless hours on your own and claim benefits from the state?
It might sound great if you’re stuck doing a mundane job that you hate doing and working for a boss that you would happily see get set upon by a particularly angry sleuth of grizzly bears but it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be. Now I don’t feel bad for claiming what little money the Department of Work & Pensions gives me each month, and believe me it’s fuck all, because I’ve spent the best part of 20 years paying my taxes and making a contribution. It’s not that easy to claim that money either. Do you think I want to waste my time filling out form after form after form and attending countless degrading interviews with people that don’t really have a clue nor give a shit about how I’m feeling and are just there to tick boxes and score me points? No I don’t. I’d much rather be at work, earning money and providing for my family.
It’s difficult to do that though when your GP, your mental health worker and your therapist have all said not to work because there’s a good chance it’ll make my condition worse. Not to mention the effect that my unpredictable mood and behaviour may have on my colleagues.
So I stay at home instead. I guess I am essentially what you might call a glorified house husband. I clean the house, I do the laundry, I go food shopping and I take care of all the other odd jobs that need doing around the place. Sometimes if I’ve got everything done I’ll take my laptop outside and do some blogging or I’ll play some PlayStation. Occasionally I’ll go out and catch up with a friend or go for a nice walk. What I don’t do is laze in bed all morning, watch Jeremy Kyle and stuff my face with junk food.
Not working for months on end is hardly a nice lengthily skive. I don’t get paid from my work at all other than a limited amount of SSP and I constantly suffer with feelings of guilt because my partner is essentially working to keep a roof over both of our heads.
So no. I’m not lazy. I’m just not well.
4. We spend all day self-harming and wanting to kill ourselves
Much as I enjoy it, the likes of 13 Reasons Why depict an unrealistic picture of self harm and suicide. It’s not all about lying in a bath with a razor blade and slashing your wrists. Sometimes self harm can be an act as simple as going on a reckless spending spree that you can’t afford or drinking so much that you end up curled up on the floor surrounded by pools of your own sick.
The most realistic depiction of somebody suffering from depression and turning to self-harming and suicide as a way of coping with the pain was the early 2000’s E4 series ‘As If’ which featured a long running story-line concerning the worsening depression, anxiety and eventual suicide attempts of one of the lead characters Sooz. It didn’t try and glorify her situation in any way but it did spend a considerable amount of time focusing on how her ongoing mental illness affected her friends and the other people around her. All episodes appear to be available on YouTube at the time of writing, so I’ll leave a link at the bottom for those of you that want to give it a try.
In my case, self harm has up until recently been confined to attacking and trying to cut my left forearm. It’s a strange feeling and one that I don’t really understand. Despite the fact that it bloody hurts when I’m doing it and leaves my arm looking pretty horrific it does kind of comfort me in a way. It’s almost like all the pain and hurt that I’m feeling in my mind is transferred to the part of my body that I’m attacking at that moment. It’s a relief while I’m doing it, but afterwards I feel kind of ashamed and in even more pain than I was beforehand. Thankfully, since being prescribed anti-psychotics my self-harm has relented.
5. We are just attention seeking
Not at all. The majority of those suffering with depression and other mental health conditions will keep themselves to themselves and only discuss their illness with their partner or their close friends through fear of misunderstanding or rejection. In fact, and this is particularly true in my case, we’re far more likely to speak to complete strangers about what we’re going through. Especially if they too suffer with a similar condition to our own. Twitter in particular is a great way of connecting with people.
I don’t really understand the whole stigma surrounding mental health issues. If a person has an accident and breaks a couple of bones then it’s okay for them to make a fuss and go on and on about how much pain they’re in and how much they’re suffering. People feel sorry for them and dish out the tea and sympathy. If the same person were to suddenly start talking about how they felt mentally drained all the time and how they had started cutting themselves on a regular basis they would be called out as an attention seeker. Try and figure that one out if you can!
Anyway, thoughts and comments are welcome as always below. And if you took the time to read this article please do consider giving it a like or a share if you can.