The Mental Illness Taboo
Here’s something I bet most of you don’t know about me.
About one year ago, I started seeing a therapist. There are lots of reasons I decided to go, many of which I won’t go into here. Mostly, I felt heavy, and exhausted, and numb, and I had for years. So once a week, throughout my last semester of college, I sat in her office and poured my heart out for one full hour.
There came a week when she informed me that, from her perspective, I suffer from a mild form of depression. The details of how it came out are fuzzy, but that word stuck with me. Depression. I remember asking my best friend if it was something I should be concerned about, and she suggested I talk it over with my therapist. But I didn’t. I chose to ignore it because I feared what it would mean if I acknowledged it.
Depression carries a very real stigma. I kept this to myself because I thought if I confronted it, it would be real, and I would be sick, or as I convinced myself, tainted. I was worried about what people would think. I didn’t want to carry the label of being weak, or worse, crazy. I played into the stigma, at my own risk, as so many others do.
Therapy, even, was something people gawked at. When my mom found out I was seeing a therapist, she didn’t understand. She told me that everyone is a little depressed at times and it’s something we just have to learn to deal with on our own, and I should, too. She told me employers would find out about my mental state and refuse to hire me. She told me she didn’t know what she had done wrong to force me to do this. Looking back at that now, it’s further proof that depression remains very much misunderstood and minimized.
I had my last therapy session the day before I graduated. My therapist told me she was impressed by the growth she had seen in me, but recommended that I continue treatment elsewhere, wherever I ended up. I wholeheartedly agreed, but somewhere in the whirlwind of graduating and the holidays and landing a job and moving to a new state and adjusting to post-grad life, I lost track of that as a priority. By the time I was settled, I convinced myself that seeking treatment wouldn’t benefit me given the short period of time I would be in Iowa. I was scared of starting over with someone new.
I was wrong. During my five months in Des Moines, I experienced more extreme highs and extreme lows than I ever had before. I reached out to friends, willing them to read my mind and comprehend my pain. I laid in bed some nights, feeling hopeless and useless and worthless, a victim to my own mind. I spiraled. Sometimes I convinced myself that the only way anyone could ever feel even a sliver of what I feel would be if I disappeared. I was never brave enough to go through with anything, if brave is even appropriate in this context. But yes, it did cross my mind.
Sometimes you can cry for help, but it’s just not loud enough, or people cover their ears because it seems to be something much easier to ignore than to face head on, or they carry on, oblivious. Or, they can’t fully wrap their minds around the extent of your suffering, and therefore don’t know what to do. I’m better off than some, because at the very least I can be honest with myself about where I’m at mentally, whereas far too many convince themselves that that there’s absolutely nothing wrong or just have no idea. I used to tell my therapist how silly I felt for my problems when people all over the world are dealing with “real” problems. “Your problems are very real, Kourtney. Very much so,” she’d tell me. And she was right.
Are we allowed to openly discuss our mental states? Am I compromising my career or my friendships? At this point, I say it’s necessary, though I know many wouldn’t agree. It makes people uncomfortable. It’s something they’d rather overlook. Quite frankly, I’m tired of being hushed.
So here I am, on a public forum, saying what has become taboo in our society: I suffer from mental illness. And maybe some of you think I’m being dramatic. Or ridiculous, even. Maybe I am, because I don’t even fully understand what I’m going through, and maybe it’s not quite as serious for me as it is for others. But what I find more dramatic and ridiculous are the social media posts calling for a conversation to be initiated about mental illness, yet no one makes a peep.
Activism without action. Where will that get any of us?
“You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” –Robin Williams