December 29, 2015
So, I’m taking a deep breath. There are some things that are tough to say, because it’s not what people expect. We have an image of how people should be. Often our own images of how WE should be is even more powerful, and the more multi layered our lives, the greater the expectations. The constant tug to be good at your job and be a good mother. Looking at a watch and thinking if I leave this meeting now because somewhere a five year old is pressing their nose to the after school club window and hoping their mum won’t be late again, will people tut and think “Lightweight”? If I’m a feminist, but sometimes I just want to paint my nails and click about in heels, will people think I’m a sell out?
I am in an ‘important’ job. It pays more than either of my parents could ever have imagined earning. It has a positional power wholly independent of me, like an invisible chain of office. I do this job and most of the time I think I do it well. But here is a confession. I suffer from depression and mild obsessive compulsive behaviours. I have always suffered from the former, since being a teenager. My brain works differently from most people’s brains. It doesn’t produce enough of the chemical serotonin. And when your brain doesn’t work, strange things happen. If you have Tourette’s you yell insults at people, some of which make sense. So, if Eric Pickles mum had Tourette’s she might yell Fat Fucker! at him. She’d be horrified at this, but a weird circuit in her brain would flash and she wouldn’t be able to help herself. Oliver James wrote about a man who thought his wife was a hat. He didn’t really think his wife was a hat. But in our brains there is a tiny filing clerk who sits with the camera that our eyes operate and labels the object viewed from the memory files stored and sends the name to our mouths. Except in this man’s case, the filing clerk is drunk and on a mission to be sacked. It takes the files, throws them into the air and picks one up at random. That’s what happens when your brain doesn’t work like every other brain.
So, my brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin. That means my ability to be happy or positive is restricted. But, I don’t live in a vacuum, so I have learned to act in a way people expect. I know what normal looks like and I do a great job in exhibiting those characteristics. I smile, I talk to people and most of the time it isn’t an act. I’d like to thank the filing clerk who stored the images of what I am like at my best so I can replay them when I least feel like it.
But in reality, this is what happens. There is a voice in my head that tells me I am useless, hopeless, a failure, that relays images of disaster and horror to my head, that keeps talking even when I am asleep and makes me think things that I know aren’t true and yet I really believe. I think everyone hates me or they just feel sorry for me. I feel like getting out of bed is too painful to contemplate. I dream of wrapping myself up in a blanket and hiding forever. At present I am over-medicated, making extreme emotion hard and adding a shield to life. Experiencing life on anti depressants feels like watching from a glass mask, my senses and sounds dulled.
If another organ of mine didn’t work, I would be fine in sharing this with people. If I had asthma and smoke or cat hair triggered an attack, I would feel comfortable in sharing this. No one would tell me to breathe harder or pull my lungs together. If I was diabetic, no one would think I was injecting myself for attention. Yet I feel trepidation in admitting that my life is affected by depression. Because part of me doesn’t want to feel like that. Actually, I’m quite funny, and being a depression sufferer doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs. And I want to say, Yes, I suffer from depression, but I can still be good at my job. But I hold back.
I’m done with holding back though. I can’t stand up for people with disabilities and demand society changes, and then deny I have any such “weakness”. I wrote elsewhere, in an anonymous blog, that I couldn’t speak up for Spartacus, yet deny being Spartacus. I have a depressive illness, which I manage. I still am able to do a good job and contribute to a great organisation. These facts are not mutually exclusive. I am coming out. I am Spartacus. I feel ok about that. I hope you do too.