World Mental Health Day
or, just another-fucking-day in the eyes of my doctor.
Trigger Warning: self-harm, depression, sexual assault. Nothing in-detail or whatever but I guess I should put it here just in case.
Disclaimer: this post is pretty rubbish and depression/anxiety-centric. I’ve never had any other form of mental illness, so I can’t really talk about it. Just try get the angle that I’m coming from but obviously new angles are welcome!
So I figured it was about time that I tried to make peace with my mental health issues. Today, on World Mental Health Day of all days, I went to see my doctor. I went to see him because after five years (on and off) with severe depression and anxiety, and having dabbled with beta-blockers and counselling I figured it was time to try something new, anti-depressants. It’s something that I was really reluctant to do- there are a lot of people in my life that I love and respect who have been really damaged by anti-depressants but it was a risk I deemed worth taking.
So, my doctor called me in. ‘Hi XXXXX, what’s wrong with you?’. I coughed, because, well, I have a fucking cough at the moment. My doctor responds to that with ‘is that a hint?’. I tell him no, whilst coughs are annoying and all I don’t really make routine trips to the doctor because I’m a little raspy. ‘Long story short, I’m severely depressed and I have pretty bad anxiety levels.’ How does my doctor respond to this frank analysis of my current state? He says ‘you don’t look depressed’.
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day where everyone’s consciousness is supposed to be raised, even just a little. A day where we all try just that little bit harder to actively fight the stigma we have around mental health- to combat the stereotypes. Clearly, my doctor missed the memo. In saying ‘you don’t look depressed’ he was basically saying ‘depressed people cry all the time and can’t hold themselves together, you’ve got a full face of make-up and seem fine’, because, you know, people with depression don’t have coping mechanisms and they don’t know how to interact with the world at all. And because, apparently, depressed people are just one homogeneous group and we all look and act the same.
So, I told him that after dealing with it for so long sometimes you just deal with it (what he didn’t know was that I missed my appointment the prior week because I was doing exactly what depressed people are ‘supposed’ to do- sit in bed crying (well actually i was sleeping at the *exact* time of my appointment but because i’d been up all night doing the depressed person crying thing)). His next line was ‘well it’s a good act’.
I didn’t know how to react to that, and, to be honest- I still don’t. It seems to me that ‘it’s a good act’ smacks of ‘I don’t believe you’ which really complements the ‘you don’t look depressed’ bombshell. It’s so dangerous. People have so many false beliefs about mental health issues- that they’re just part of life, that they need to get over it, that it’s their fault, that it’s because of their diet. Because of these false beliefs having the courage to say ‘no, I am ill and I need to seek help’ is so difficult. If you tell a person with mental health issues that they don’t fit into some warped stereotype of what they are then you’re going to add to these feelings of self-doubt, which in turn add to their feelings of depression. My doctor didn’t tell me he didn’t believe me explicitly, but he didn’t need to- it was in his gestures, his tone and his sarcastic remarks. It made me feel like shit. Luckily, I’m pretty self-aware and I know that I’m right in seeking medication, and I know when I’m depressed and/or anxious and when I’m not, and a doctor who’s known me for 5 minutes won’t tell me otherwise. Luckily, I don’t have that self-doubt, but if I did, the doctor saying what he said would have been so minimising and dismissive that it could have run a real risk of ever stopping me confronting my mental health.
Anyway, I ignored this and reeled off my medical history and periods of stability and instability in my life. I told him that I hated school, that my Mom and Step-Dad divorced when I was 15ish, and that I generally just didn’t fit in much. It wasn’t a perfect few years but it’s far from horror-story upbringing, a lot of that is just usual teenage angst, which is, of course, a very different thing from *actual depression*. I then told him about the more recent updates in my life: being sexually assaulted last year, struggling with the police/counselling service, uni stress and generally life feeling impossible- even something as minor a wolf-whistle in the street reducing me to tears. I told him the ways in which my anxiety and depression manifested themselves: fluctuations in appetite and sleeping pattern, anxiety attacks, lethargy, randomly crying, you know, the usual. I also told him of the ways in which I’d ‘coped’ and/or medicated. I told him that I had, until quite recently, had a history of harming myself; I told him I hadn’t done this for a while, but the desire was occasionally there. I told him I’d had beta blockers and counselling, and that I used distraction tactics. I told him that the only things I hadn’t tried were CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and anti-depressants.
Instead of listening to my requests, listening to my *actual medical history*, and to my symptoms, he decided to ask me about my Dad. This is something that has happened a couple of times to me now, and it would be laughable if it wasn’t such a waste of my time. I’m amazed that this is still part of the discourse around mental health- like the only reason for our issues is that we want to fuck our parents. We argued for around five or ten minutes as to whether my Dad was the reason for my depression. He very reluctantly conceded after I started to lose my temper a little bit.
In the end, I left with a prescription for anti-depressants and a list of places I could get CBT. Essentially, I got what I wanted but the experience was terrible.
A *lot* of what I experienced in that clinic reminded me so much of my experience of being sexually assaulted.
1- you’re not believed.
2- not only are you not believed, but you’re told *if it is true* then something completely irrelevant caused it anyway. With depression, it’s my relationship with my Dad. With being sexually assaulted, it was being quite a sexually open person which obviously means I asked for it.
3- to be believed you have to fit a certain (often very inaccurate) stereotype. As a depressed person, apparently this means walking around in unwashed clothes, generally having bad bodily hygiene and crying everywhere. As a victim of sexual assault it meant being asked questions like ‘why didn’t you come forward [to the police] sooner?’ and ‘had you previously had sex?’.
Anyway, it’s all pretty indicative of a shit society and shit awareness. It’s indicative of the way we treat our oppressed peoples- I can only speak as a woman and as a person of ill mental health, but I’m sure the links aren’t that hard to come across in other struggles. We are minimised, dismissed, patronised and disbelieved. We are deemed attention seeking and therefore undeserving of the attention that we require. It’s bullshit. World Mental Health Day is supposed to challenge the narratives around a tiny subset of disability, and clearly it’s still completely necessary, because even if our trained medical professionals buy into these false narratives, we really are pretty fucked.