WARNING: Parts of my storey are very confronting and some may find upsetting, if you find yourself upset and depressed I encourage you to ring Lifeline on 13 11 14 or BeyondBlue on 1300 224636.
Since I started my blog, nearly a fortnight ago, people that have known me have commented about my depression, and what has happened to me, saying “I didn’t know”. This is not surprising to me, and it’s nobody’s fault that they didn’t know what was going on with me, it does mean however, that the mask I used to hide my pain, and depression was working. One of the things my Mother use to say was “nobody wants to be around someone who is miserable”. That may be true but it is this very attitude that drove me behind a mask, stopped me from talking about my feelings, and which made me feel ashamed of who I was, and how I was feeling. For years, I never spoke to anyone about my depression, I would always say I was fine, when in fact I was like a duck – on the surface I was calm, and okay, but underwater my legs were going a million miles an hour, fighting the current, and driving me further and further into isolation.
The feelings of shame attached to depression have contributed to the stigma attached to mental illness. When I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s mental illness was not talked about, there were few awareness or prevention campaigns, and few people were diagnosed with depression until years later. After all it wasn’t until the 1980’s that major depressive disorder was recognised in the DSM-III, the diagnostic criteria used by doctors, clinicians, etc., to diagnose a disease, illness, condition. Within Australia, BeyondBlue a non-for-profit organisation tasked to provide a public health approach to depression was not established until October, 2000. Since this time, considerable work has been completed by BeyondBlue, government, and health agencies to assist people with depression, and other mental health illnesses. Recently, R U OK? Day has brought to the forefront of people’s mind the awareness of mental illness, and more importantly encouraging people to ask the question R U OK?, to start the conversation about how someone is feeling. If this had of occurred decades earlier would we be facing so much stigma attached to mental illness, would we be hiding behind a mask ashamed to be ourselves, and would life be so difficult for those suffering these illnesses?
For me, I went to secondary school hidden behind my mask, hiding away from environments where I had to talk to people, had to express myself, and had to try and make friends. It was easier to hide from the world than to try and be someone I couldn’t be to fit in. I was often teased and bullied, I was the quiet one in the corner, on the bus, at gatherings and events. I didn’t want to be there, and the ‘tough’ kids knew that and exploited their power to make me feel hurt, alone, and ashamed to be me. I was in a school of thousands but I was alone, isolated because I was different.
When I graduated from school, and started working I met my first boyfriend who would turn out to be my husband, and the father of my son. Little did I know that my mask turned me into a person that I wasn’t, and when my now ex-husband uncovered my vulnerability, and my depression, which he used against me to cheat on me, abuse me both mentally and physically, and eventually hurt me so much that I couldn’t take anymore, and became a single Mum with a toddler suffering severe depression more isolated than ever before. I was so caught up in putting up a mask to hide who I really was that I failed to see the warning signs of depression, and it wasn’t for years later that someone told me that they thought I had depression. I wonder how they saw through my mask, and knew my pain!
Working when you have depression is increasingly stressful. The workplace is not one to support someone with a mental illness, they rarely encourage people to talk about their problems, and even when some know of your depression it doesn’t mean that they will actively talk about it, and show support, if anything it’s the opposite a wall of stigma goes up around you, and you work tirelessly to keep that mask covering your real feelings, hiding who you really are, and silently wishing that someone would realise that you are NOT okay!
Not only is depression, and mental illness hidden by our own individual masks, it is also hidden by a mask shrouding us from society – a stigma, a shame – that prevents conversations from occurring about mental illness with those suffering from mental illness, and ultimately stopping people from seeking and receiving the help they require to become well. The work of BeyondBlue, Sane Australia, Headspace, and campaigns such as R U OK?, and others in Australia have gone a long way to change the attitudes towards mental illness, but there is a considerably long way to go before people with depression, and other mental illnesses feel comfortable and supported enough to take down their masks, not suffer in silence, and so those around us can really see who we are as a person, and the affects that mental illness truly have on our daily lives.
I have been lucky in the last two years to have my soul mate, who has given me the love and support needed to finally take down my mask, to provide a safe place where I can talk about how I am feeling, and to feel supported and helped to start the journey towards recovery. It certainly hasn’t been easy without my mask, and there are certainly times when the mask goes back up, but being in this position has allowed me to receive the help I have needed, to have conversations with my true love, my GP, and Psychiatrist, but more importantly, I am now in a position where I can talk about my illness and my road to recovery with other’s like me who suffer in silence, behind a mask isolating them from the real world, even from family and friends.
The mask shrouding depression acts as a catalyst for that Black Dog to invade our lives, it acts to control the Dog, and heighten the affects of depression. Revealing our true identity, and our illness isn’t and shouldn’t be an individual act, it should be an act by society to accept depression and mental illness for what they are, an illness, and should provide the foundations of support, and ensure the walls of stigma are broken down to allow for people with mental illness to be treated as equal, and given the courage to speak up about their illness. Even without a mask, I am not saying the road of depression will be any easier, I just hope that without our masks we can be ourselves, and society can provide the mechanisms by which those with mental illness can receive the help, therapy, treatment, and counselling that they need, that they can go to work in a fair and supported workplace, where they can go to school without being bullied, and where parents, family and friends can recognise the warning signs of mental illness and act to help their loved ones.