Hiding My Real Self

This afternoon I read a very real piece from Sista over at Phoenix Fights about anger. She writes very well about hiding her internal anger from her (annoyingly chirpy) therapy group and pretty much all of her friends, resigning herself to the fact that a recent outburst has probably led to the end of one such friendship. It was a post that really made me stop and think today.

How much time do we spend convincing others (and maybe also ourselves?) that we are experiencing socially acceptable emotions? How many “how are you’s” do we answer dishonestly with “oh great” or “much better thanks”. We may go as far as a little “getting there” or even a “one day at a time” but even these will be followed with a cheery smile. And then there’s the shoulder shrug or head bob that always follows such a statement, designed to relieve the other person of any awkward duty to reply, implying that it’s fine to leave it at that.

Why do I not admit that I’m not always okay? Why do I not answer a “how are you” with “not great actually, see that corner over there…well I’d really like to lie down in it, curled up in a ball, for about 14 straight hours”. Who I am I lying to? Who am I lying for? I’m not sure any more. Am I trying to protect my partner from the reality that I’m always going to be a little bit not-okay? Am I trying to pretend due to some unconscious fear that he would leave me if he suspected this was me, forever? Am I trying to convince myself that this slightly-less-than-okay existence is enough for me?

I’m not really sure why I do it, but today I realised that I’m not the only one who does. And I’m guessing Sista and I aren’t the only two! Which makes me wonder…what would happen if we all told the truth?

Hiding My Real Self

An Apology to Ruby Wax

Last week I gathered in the London Jewish Cultural Centre with about sixty other people and bargained with my mind to open itself. Who knows, I thought, there might be something in this. And if not, we’re close enough to the door to escape early to the pub on the corner. My mind was most definitely not open, it was barely even ajar, and so I could not have been more surprised by the next hour if Freud himself had made a ghostly appearance.

The smartly dressed woman with the trademark cackle who sat in front of us was not the “Brand Ruby” I had expected. Instead we met an intelligent yet vulnerable woman, who was not afraid to share herself and her story with a room full of strangers. We met a woman whose eyes hinted at depths of suffering, despite her outwardly chic appearance. We met a woman who had crawled back from rock bottom and turned her genetic lottery card into a winning ticket. A ticket not for money, but for the accomplishment of making sense of the darkness and helping others find their way towards that same light.

At times I, similar to many of my fellow “1-in-4″s in the room, glimpsed snatches of myself on that stage. At times I felt almost as if I was facing a woman who was, quite possibly, one of the few people on this earth who “get” me: a thought contributed by one audience member who volunteered “you know me better than my husband of 25 years”. For an hour I felt less alone and more understood than I have in years. And all without me speaking a single word. I found the comfort and solace others find in a church. The air hummed with solidarity, empathy and shared but unspoken pain. When you spend your whole life pretending you’re “fine” moments like that don’t come around very often. And when they do you grab them and wrap yourself in them like a giant snuggly blanket.

I don’t know why I’ve resisted Ruby for so long. When I discovered her illness, active campaigning and studies I dismissed them as publicity. I scoffed at the idea of the firecracker I remembered from TV being capable of serious depth and despair. And for that I am truly sorry. Depression doesn’t operate on a class system. It doesn’t care if you are famous. And I more than anyone should know that the public you might be so very different from your true self as to be a totally different person. My perception of Ruby was based on limited media exposure many years ago, a person she herself admits was brash and aggressive, a symptom rather than her personality. This perception led me to dismiss her contributions as unworthy of my attention all these years later. Now I find myself looking forward to a quiet day when I can curl up with her book and spend another few hours in the comforting company of my newfound kindred spirit

An Apology to Ruby Wax

Depression: The Curse of the Strong (Review)

Quite a few months ago I came across a book called Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong by Dr. Tim Cantopher*. Naturally, any book that wants to tell me I’m strong has to be worth a read so I clicked that oh-too-simple-to-spend-my-money 1-click-purchase button. The book then lived idly on my Kindle for several months while my money lived actively in the Amazon bank account. I should probably work on my impulse buying! However, I did eventually get around to reading it and I figured I should share some of my thoughts with you all in a review of sorts. So here goes.

I finished this book in about 3 evenings. It’s really simple to read and does quite a good job of explaining without being patronising (about 90% of the time – in some places I think the author went a little overboard with the “you’re so strong” message). This book has divided me. On the one hand, I think those of us suffering from depression could do with a nice dose of positive energy and reassurance that we do indeed suffer from a physical illness. On the other hand I’m not quite sure that the author has carried through on his attention-grabbing title – I found that I closed the book with a little bit more self-love and a sense of strength but no practical ideas for maintaining that state. The suggestions are the usual: rest, relax, ask your boss to reduce your hours, don’t watch TV before bed….nothing I hadn’t heard before. Perhaps I’m looking for a miracle cure but if you author a book for the Type A personality you can’t really expect them to start spontaneously meditating. In fact, I would argue that we are the very people who should be given activities and exercises instead…something to DO! That’s just how we work.

The best chapter in the book is probably the first chapter: “What is depressive illness”. The author does a good job of explaining some fairly complex biological and psychological concepts. Of course, a neuroscientist would probably criticise the simplified diagrams and “electric circuit” analogies but lets face it, if you have depression any explanation of the brain that contains words with more than 3 syllables just isn’t going to work. Some days I have to read the microwave instructions on my soup twice! If it piques your interest my advice would be to pick up a first year university textbook on neuro-psychology for further reading.

The rest of the chapters were disappointing, however if this is the first book you are reading on depression then you’ll probably find them excellent. The author offers a good review of the history of depression (including some fun “ye old treatments” info) and an overview of the main schools of thought on the ever-present “why do I have depression” question. As a first-time reader I think you could do a lot worse than Dr. Cantopher as your guide. As somebody with a background in the field and who has read extensively on the topic I didn’t find anything new here. I did enjoy the author’s style however and I wish I had found this book when I was first starting out on my journey. In chapter 4 the author does introduce some interesting perspectives on positive thinking and introduced me to the concept of being able to “fail well”, i.e. failing, forgiving yourself & learning from it. This is something that I am particularly bad at therefore it was a section of the book that resonated with me and has led me down a path of further reading. I hope to share my thoughts and findings as I go.

I believe that the key to this book might be in what you are looking to get from it. For me, it was refreshing to read a book based entirely on the premise that I am a strong individual, instead of focusing on my negative traits. Unlike self-help books that encourage you to work on your negative traits with the aim of minimising them, this book focuses on your strengths and understanding how they may have contributed to your illness. Dr Cantopher by no means suggests that we should desire to be weaker, only that we recognise what we are doing to ourselves and quite simply: give ourselves a break! I think that is something that all Type A personalities could do with.

Overall, this is a great book for those new to the topic and an interesting read for those of us already possessing knowledge. Within the pages I found a signpost for further explorations, I hope you will too.

Note: Probably one key thing to mention about this book is that it is based on stress-induced depression and is not aimed at those suffering from Bipolar, postnatal depression, SAD, etc. So if you have one of these disorders this probably isn’t the book for you. This work is aimed at us Type A over-achievers who, in a way, have “stressed” ourselves into depression.

* This is an associate link to Amazon. I’m not looking to monetise this blog, it’s never been my intention. I’m just very technologically inquisitive (I’m learning PHP in my spare time) and wondering how this whole affiliate thing works. If you abhor these practices I apologise for this and if you’ve already clicked the link please clear your cache. If you haven’t clicked yet, you can just go to Amazon and search for the title instead of going through this site. Thanks.

Depression: The Curse of the Strong (Review)

It’s not me, it’s you!

I had a mini-epiphany at 6.10am this morning. For me to have anything at any hour before 11 is amazing so I’m really taking this one on board.

It was one of those moments in life where you see a situation clearer than ever before. Similar to that point in an eye exam where the optician suddenly drops the best lens into the viewing panel and you see things as never before: clearer, sharper, the layer of blur you just can’t shake removed. Like the eye exam it lasts only an instant but you know you’ll never go back to seeing things that way again.

I can’t really explain my epiphany without some context so hopefully you’ll bear with me. When I was first diagnosed I was in a relationship. It was pretty serious: living together with marriage vaguely on the long term plan. When my illness hit its peak the relationship crumbled and I dealt with that period in my life mainly by myself. We co-existed until I was strong enough to leave.
For the last number of years I have filed that relationship under “damn you depression”, the end attributed to my illness making it impossible for me to be somebody he could love. He couldn’t cope with the me he ended up with and I couldn’t be any different because of where I was emotionally. I have always looked back with a sense of regret – not that it ended but that it ended because of my health. Another thing to resent my illness for.
This morning I saw it very differently. I realised that we were in two very different relationships: I was in one where I thought I could be myself, even the very worst version of myself, and he would love me regardless. He was in a relationship with the girl he met, who had long since ceased to exist.

It might not seem like a very big epiphany but it has turned my brain upside down. It’s not that the reasons for the end have changed, on the surface they are the same: arguments, lack of trust, no communication. But my perception of the underlying cause, the “secret reason” we kept to ourselves, has been smashed. It wasn’t my illness, it was his inability to accept me for who I really am.

He once told me “it’s not that I don’t love you but you make it very difficult”. I now realise that until 6.10am today I thought that he was right.

It’s not me, it’s you!

I’m Normal…Maybe!

Recent Daily Prompt is: Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?

Normal? Who knows what that is! We all claim to know – average, acceptable, some even say boring. Mental illness, theft, homosexuality, bird watching….every activity in life is deemed normal or abnormal depending on who’s doing the judging.

Me, I prefer cold hard facts to feelings. Show me the numbers. Abnormality can be defined as statistical infrequency, i.e. the issue in question is enjoyed / suffered / done by a statistically insignificant amount of the population.

So far so good.

However, with WHO estimating that 350 million people suffer from depression globally, some doubt is cast on its position in the abnormal pile. The same with mental health “issues” and the widely quoted 1-in-4 statistic. So, when does the abnormal become normal? And are we confusing normal with desirable?

While statistics suggest that it just might become “normal” to suffer from a mental illness it’s certainly not suddenly about to become desirable or en vogue just because “everyone’s doing it”. So, when faced with an abnormality, perhaps we shouldn’t be asking “is this normal”, perhaps instead we should be asking “are these circumstances that seem desirable to me”…

I’m Normal…Maybe!