Your Discomfort Is Not My Issue
And the Oscar goes to……! I am an amazing actress. No, not on the big or little screen, which would be nice because it pays well. My role is pretending everything is okay and I win the Oscar for having so many believe it for so long. To this day I have people who I grew up with tell me they can’t believe I was feeling the way I describe since outwardly I appeared to be a “normal” person, albeit somewhat quirky. Well, we know there is no such things as normal, but you get my drift.
Why do we hide? Hiding is something I learned to do from an early age, not just to protect myself but in order to not upset the people around me. I’m well aware that I was thought of as an odd duck, but no one knew how incredibly black and dark I felt on the inside. Part of me thought it was normal since it began when I was very young – another part felt deep down that something might be wrong but that you weren’t supposed to talk about it. That’s the shame piece. Those of us with mental illness often feel as if we are somehow flawed human beings. Here’s the truth….we are all flawed (shocker I know!). Having a mental illness is just that, an illness. Those of you who still stick to the belief that it isn’t real and is somehow a character flaw can quite frankly go away. The science tells us different. The experience of survivors tells us different. It is the stigma that mainly keeps us silent.
If I broke my arm I would go to a hospital, get a cast, and everyone would see it, ask what happened, probably offer support to haul groceries or something. But when our injury is in the brain no one can see it. Sure, people may see odd behavior or changes in how someone functions, but there is no specific thing you can look to and “patch it up”. For some reason our culture likes things that are tangible, visible, and can have an easy fix. Unfortunately, that isn’t reality with mental illness and so with this comes the stigma. I have heard it all; “why don’t you just get over it?”, “someone somewhere has it worse than you”, “what do you have to be depressed about?”. And on and on it goes! Let me be clear, no one should ever say things like this to someone who is telling you they are depressed. It’s just wrong. If you don’t know what to say, than guess what? Say that…and then shut up and listen.
No one should feel they have to act a certain way to make others feel more comfortable. This is why people die by suicide. I’ve been in that place and it’s not something I wish on anyone. Maybe this will be hard to explain, but when we are hiding our illness it feels something like this. Imagine waking up one day and your body feels like it has a fifty-pound bolder sitting on it. You try to get up but the pain is so bad all you can do is cry and lay back down. The wind has been knocked out of you. When you finally move the boulder, it takes a herculean effort and you pull yourself up but the damage is so great that even just walking takes every bit of strength you have. You try and get yourself to focus, not on the pain but on what the day brings even as you can barely speak or move. The pain won’t lift no matter how many times you shake your head and wish the cobwebs away. For a little while you move around, maybe even get yourself something to eat or have a tea. Before you know it, you have to lay back down again – there is no energy left for anything else. If you are lucky enough to push the pain aside and find the ability to get dressed and get out of the house, you paste on a smile and try to walk as normally as possible so no one sees your discomfort. And when you get home again, every ounce of energy has been expended so it’s back to the comfort and safety of that bed, hoping the boulder doesn’t land on you again in the morning. That boulder is your brain and the pain is depression.
To those who wish I would shut up, hide, or keep faking it I say this, your discomfort is NOT my responsibility. So, I won’t be an actress any longer. I’ve given up the Oscar winning performance because I don’t need awards for a fake life. My reward is living authentically for myself. The reality of stigma and shame is that it kills people. I want to live and in doing so save others. This actress is retired.
My favourite poem is Still I Rise by Maya Angelou (see the Poetry tab on this site). There is one verse that I read over and over and wish to share with you here:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Continue to rise dear warriors and never forget you are worth the effort!