A friend on facebook posted this video of real women adopting model poses in public. It’s quite funny, especially the woman who holds a handbag to her face as she sits motionless in a fast food restaurant.
Although it made me laugh, the most striking thing for me about the film is how the women are ignored. Passing members of the public mostly just try to avoid eye contact. Acting out of the ordinary, others clearly assume these women are mentally ill and as such are objects of pity or fear.
I have, over the years, had moments of feeling like the mad woman on the bus. I’ve felt so disconnected from rational thought that to open my mouth and speak aloud is a palpable risk. It’s no fun. I think with the wonderful benefit of hindsight that this is my fourth major incidence of depression. I didn’t know it at the time, but the first was in my final year at university. Very much in love the previous academic year, I became pregnant and was booked in without consultation for a termination by the GP who had just given me the news. He didn’t suggest an alternative, and I didn’t ask. I was bitterly sorry as soon as it had taken place, and I’m sure that was what triggered the end of the relationship and a pretty awful episode of depression and OCD during my finals. Most people don’t know this about me. I expect there are some who would rather they still didn’t.
I suffered silently with post-natal depression after Pierre was born, nearly thirteen years ago. In fact, I had no idea what was wrong with me. I had everything I thought I wanted. A third baby was more than I felt I deserved. It took a professional to name what I had, and that helped me contain it. Twice since Juliette died have I slipped into the inky pit – a place that has scant links with legitimate and healthy grief.
Old habits make me want to apologise for being honest now, but I can’t. Perhaps therapy has loosened my tongue and distorted my perspective but I hate the secrecy and pretence in the way we talk and behave. In Britain and most of Europe as far as depression and other forms of mental illness are concerned, the culture of simply needing to “pull oneself together” and “up by the bootstraps” lingers on. Some I know deny the existence of depression as a condition. To talk about it is embarrassing and to confess to suffering is an admission of weakness, and of personal failure.
I’m open but I don’t exactly bend ears indexing my misery. That after all is what therapists are for. I do sense that some of my peers find my frankness uncomfortable, but I can’t pretend all is sunny when it isn’t. It used to matter to me very much that people thought I was alright. Losing Juliette has narrowed my focus on what is important, and keeping up appearances while your insides shatter is no longer one of them. This year has taught me there’s no virtue or strength in blind denial of your human fallibility.
Equally, I figure no one has to read what I write, either here or in the book I wrote about Juliette. Writing about it helps me feel less alone, and I’ve long been aware that in articulating powerfully negative thoughts and in giving them a name it weakens their hold. I wonder too whether a few see themselves in what I write and feel less isolated just as I did reading others at earlier, desperate times. Perhaps however this is just evidence of my depressional delusion.
Why is depression so feared, though? That’s a stupid question actually – I’m bloody afraid of it. A small part of me thinks, like many others less familiar with it than I am, that it’s contagious. Is that it? I’ve mulled this over since watching the youtube clip and I’ve decided it has more to do with our ancient ape tribal alignment. Social inclusion depends on the intellect and conscious thought, and unconsciously we operate more like the beasts that we are. As in Lord of the Flies, the pack is strong and the individual is weak and whether we like it or not, we are evolutionarily programmed to crave the pack. The mentally ill behave outside what is normal and acceptable and might even be dangerous. Shunning them feels natural. Avoiding the eye, then laughing with others about the woman on the bus, or the woman holding an odd pose in public binds us to our “normal” peers.
I know it isn’t only fear – the gloominess of a depressed person can be just plain boring. I am all too aware that depression snatches the colour from my written words and the wit from my speech. I’m trapped in a room with the dullest person in the world, and that person is me. Hell is other people, J-P Sartre? I don’t need to venture out for my nether world.
An extraordinary fact is that worldwide, 1 in 4 people experience some type of mental illness over the course of a year but I know of only a handful. I think an awful lot of people are keeping quiet.