Monday, May 28, 2012

When is the right time to open up about your depression? (and my social anxiety)

Humblebrag: People have commented on how 'brave' I've been opening up about my OCD and anxiety here and elsewhere, but generally I shirk that compliment. Not always, sometimes I quietly bask in it.

Talking about your own experience with depression or any personal struggle is a whole lot easier when it's in the past tense though. No shit, right?

At times I've used past tense when I should really have used present, but that's tough - that takes real courage. You feel more vulnerable and sensitive to a perception of weakness, to become a victim of stigma.

Still, it ain't easy at any time and I found letting my long-held secret out of the bag to be incredibly liberating. It put it in a context of the reality outside my head, I don't feel 'alone' anymore and don't get sucked into an inward downward spiral of self-judgement so much as a result. 

However, as much as I'd love everyone with any kind of mental illness to stand up and declare it tomorrow - showing the world just how prevalent it is and the different kinds (all) of people it affects -  it is important when baring your soul to do it carefully, with the right people, especially when you're vulnerable.

It's a paradox. People struggle to talk about it because of the stigma, and the stigma exists because of a lack of discussion and understanding.

To quote a Batman film: 'People fear what they don't understand'. Too many people still don't understand mental illnes and, in some cases, fear it. It's not their fault - they may not (be aware that they probably) have dealt with someone with mental illness, and general education is lacking despite good work by a number of organisations. Some people don't really want to hear about depression because it's, well, depressing. But it's so important because too many people with depression don't understand what is going on or what to do.

That was me for a long time. I didn't talk to a sinlge person about it for over ten years until I figured out it for myself (thank you internet!). For a long time only my doctors, parents and then-girlfriend knew. A few years later I told a handful of trusted friends. A few years after that I put it out there for anyone to find. I don't go telling everyone in the 'real world' - I save that for here and Twitter - but I don't hide from it and it's not that hard for people to find me here.

If we all spoke up, we could help them understand. But for individuals, 'going public' is not necessarily the best option. Hopefully everyone has a trusted person to talk to though.

General understanding is improving though, and I still dream of a day that we can all say I do/did suffer from a mental illness, I'm happy for you to know but it does not define me!
Or something like that.
It's no coincidence that this blog started as I finally started to break the shackles of depression, and I wrote more about it as I felt better about my progress. That's not an entirely bad thing - if I'd been writing in my deepest despair the posts would have been unbearably self-pitying and at least as self-indulgent.
But I was ready because I felt comfortable - safe. Also impassioned and bloody-minded - I was, and still am, fed up with stigma. I don't raise the topic much socially, but I genuinely don't care who knows. It's a nice place to be, I am lucky.

So, it's pertinent I suppose, to mention here the recent realisation that I have one more element of my anxiety to confront: social anxiety.
It's always been the quite pervasive, but I figured it would diminish with my general anxiety - and to a large degree it has over the last ten years. Friends who knew me in my teens say I've 'blossomed' #shucks. It also helped me with other fears in a perverse kind of way - I let go of them where I absolutely had to if I feared how I would be perceived socially.

But it does show itself in a number of ways that I need to address. For example, too often I:
  • am utterly self-conscious;
  • avoid making phone calls to people I don't know well, preferring email/text where possible; 
  • actively avoid conflict and placate people at the expense of my own interests too much (yet am a natural-born antagonist!?); 
  • am horrible with small talk, wasting energy frantically thinking about what I'm going to say rather than really listening; 
  • use caveats and words/phrases like 'but', 'whatever you think/want/are doing', 'that's cool...', 'if that suits...', 'I don't mind', etc far too much;
  • Rarely say 'no'; and
  • am indecisive and over-polite - a tendency that runs through my family and frustrates the hell out of me.
Obviously - and most crucially - these behaviours haven't helped my book-worthy romantic life. I've had to rely on my humble charm and good looks.

But this shy thing doesn't suit me - i like people! If anything I talk too much among friends.

Anyway,  it's no biggie, I just wanted to put that out there for myself really because I've never done it before - you know, said 'I am dealing with this ... like, currently'.

I'm actually ridiculously excited about it, which is strange for dealing with anxiety but should help I suppose. It's like I have a renewed sense of purpose or found a new point of focus to keep improving myself. I'm feeling a child-like eagerness.

And no band speaks to my enthusiastic, eternal inner-child than Arcade Fire, so this is I kinda how I feel (if you speak music):

So there it is. I better not fail, huh.

Ps. I'm planning on attending the launch of The Emerging Writer at the Emerging Writers Festival on Friday and realise there may be a couple of tweeps there who read this. If so, try and find me and test me out on the whole talking to 'strangers' thing!

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