Celebrities Can Talk About Mental Health, But Not Me
Celebrities and well known columnists can declare their mental illness but for the rest of us this can be unwise. Beyond the universal pain of heartbreak, bereavement, redundancy and situations which everyone can relate to, trying to be open about mental illness can make you feel more vulnerable, upset, angry, and even more depressed and anxious.
This is certainly my experience, and I know I'm not alone. One young woman who came to my dance classes contacted me a few months after she moved away to say she was in a custody battle with her ex husband over their little girl. Evidence used against her included social media posts about mental health, her blog about depression, and being interviewed for radio about how she managed anxiety. Another student who comes to my classes as part of beating her depression through dance told me her recruitment agency said she wasn't getting jobs because she was open on social media about suffering from time to time with depression.
What upsets me and makes me angry is that there is more understanding for alcoholics and drug addicts. For those of us who don't harm anyone with our condition, who internalise our turmoil, who soldier on, it's painful to be treated with disdain. 'Smile,' commanded a friend at a big social bash I dragged myself to. As part of dealing with PTSD (whilst awaiting treatment) I don't want to disappear completely, I don't want to give up on everything. So I persevere through ridiculous situations that would be hard enough without a mental condition.
'You've got such a long face,' said my friend who knows about my diagnosis. I was hot, it was crowded and noisy, and I regretted going. Now I didn't moan. I just didn't have a fake smile. The irony of this is that she is on medication for depression and anxiety. She proceeded to drink and be entertaining. Fair enough, that's how she wants to deal with her life, and frankly I wish I could do that too. But I can't. And now that I'm going through PTSD and have accepted that it's time to release what's buried inside, I'm conscious of not stuffing my feelings. I slipped away after half an hour, and I did smile - at home with Graham Norton.
An alcoholic is fun and a druggie is rock n roll, I get that. They can douse their sorrows and entertain. They get the laughs and through that the connection they crave to keep them going and if they're alone the pain is numbed. Whereas I am boring and intense if I try to express how I feel. I will alienate if I reveal myself, that's the message I get.
As a society we seem to accept addiction more than anxiety. I deleted the word understand because I believe it's all manifestations of inner turmoil. Some of us are just more honest about it. Even if we don't announce it, we don't plaster on the smiles and the laughs and we don't douse our livers. I know one woman who drinks heavily and openly talks about loathing depressed people because they won't pull themselves together . I'd love to tell her her busyness and chardonayness masks her own depression.
We're all on the same continuum of emotion, it's the degrees and where we are on the scale that varies. To be human is to experience pain. It's the cycle of life. Some people will experience it more. The therapist is the shaman who helps us process our pain so we live better. Pain is pain and I wish I could live in a world where pain wasn't judged.