From my experience of working and being around people who don’t understand mental illness or who put up the stigma barriers so that I am faced with bullying and discrimination because I have depression I have learnt in the last couple of years to be rather silent. While I can write about my experience because I am not subjected to facial expressions, responses and attitudes I can no longer speak openly to people about my illness.
So when I started my new job in November I was determined not to face the stigma attached to mental illness and told nobody that I had depression but with this silence I put up my mask so the world would see I was okay, relatively normal, and I shut the doors on anybody getting to know me. I don’t think I shut people out or rather never let them in to start with I just stayed in the confines of my desk, not making eye contact with anyone, and avoiding getting into a conversation with people on subjects that didn’t relate to my job.
For nearly three months now I have been sitting at my desk plugging away at my project, having meetings about my work, and attending team meetings/events but not once have I been to have coffee or had lunch with anyone at a social level. In fact not one person in the office of some 300 people knows a fact about me personally other than what they see on my desk. Nobody knows I have depression, nobody knows where I live, my hobbies or interests, nobody asks how my holidays or my weekends were, pretty much I don’t have conversations with anyone.
While I have been somewhat determined to leave my private life private from now on because every time in the past when I have let people in they have let me down and used my depression against me I think to that my persona has changed creating a world around me where people can no longer approach me or get to know me. Maybe I have a sign on my forehead saying don’t talk to me or something to that affect or is it that I am completely invisible?
Today is a perfect example, I don’t expect people to get into a full on get to know you conversation, but showing just a little friendliness wouldn’t go a stray. So I am at my desk when a few people approached the guy sitting in the same cubicle of desks as mine and they are talking about all going out to lunch for dumplings down Bridge Road. I am sitting there thinking yum, I could go some dumplings. After everyone agreed on a time and who was going, I was left there thinking that I am definitely invisible because not one person out of the four or five talking about it decided to turn to me and say do you want to come to lunch.
I am now over analyzing my experiences in this workplace. Everyone is genuinely nice but friendly or open to getting to known new employees they are not but then again it is probably me. I am not saying that they should break down the barriers that I have put up about not letting people know the ‘real’ me or the ‘mentally ill’ me but I don’t think it is too much to ask for people to be inviting or just make some effort. I don’t know maybe I am just totally unapproachable! I always thought that I was a genuine person, approachable and friendly but maybe I have changed because of my depression and closed myself off completely from those around me so that they think they shouldn’t go near me.
How do any of us with depression and mental illness be human and get to know people when for so long we have been faced with a world of stigma that has silenced us for years? How do you come out of your shell and be social when you fear that you will say or do the wrong thing or that someone will get talking to you on a personal level that will just end in grief? Apart from the close people in my life that have stuck by me in the last couple of years while I have gone through the hardest times I can no longer meet and get to know new people. Whether its me or whether its them I don’t know, probably a combination of both, but I am left in a no win situation where I want people to know me and accept me as part of the team but on the other side I want to protect myself from being hurt by people who learn about me only to find I have a mental illness and its easier to just stay away from me.
Depression doesn’t just take your health it takes away from you your ability to be you in a world of acceptance and people that like you for being you!