03 Mar S is for Stigma (associated with mental illness)
NB: the following is an extract from a great new book I'm very happy to support and recommend
The Happiness Quest by Lana Penrose
S IS FOR … STIGMA
After going through a divorce and moving countries three times, Lana Penrose returned to Australia and was diagnosed with major depression. She chose to fight for her happiness, star-rating her experiences along the way.
Early on in my journey a widely circulated and prominent Sunday paper invited me to participate in a photo shoot to accompany a feature on my first book. … To my great surprise, the story associated with the picture went on to disclose my mental illness. … Once it hit the newsstands, my immediate thought was, ‘Holy crap! What’s everyone gonna think?’
And then I found out for myself.
Many people that I held dear seemed to fall deathly silent, dropping off the radar and disappearing into walls as I listened to the sound of a dripping tap. I found solace in the fact that the incident would be quickly forgotten and budgerigars would soon defecate all over my face once their cages had been lined with the article in question. But I was confused and slightly ashamed that others seemed confused and slightly ashamed that I’d admitted to suffering an illness suffered by one in five women and one in eight men. …
Being that most people knew me as a fun-lovin’ gal, I got the impression that my illness simply didn’t make sense to them. They couldn’t believe I suffered such a phenomenon or, worse, that I’d got it all wrong – I didn’t suffer from anything at all!
I just needed to snap out of it and if I couldn’t, I should zip it.
The thing that bothered me most, though, was that although my state of mind was incredibly real, I was still me. Yes, I was often sad behind closed doors. I couldn’t always catch my negative thoughts before they turned on the tear tap, and I wasn’t always enjoying life, but I wasn’t completely bonkers, okay! I still had a personality, intelligence, wit, feelings, incredible amounts of sensitivity and love, and I didn’t shout at telephone poles out on the street! I was the same person who everyone had always known and loved. … As far as I was concerned, for humans to be unable to offer even a kind word when it came to someone admitting that they suffered such a difficult affliction was a sad reflection of how unevolved we are as a species. …
Another problem seemed to be a lack of understanding about the variances in type and severity of mental illness. In my case, rather than major depression, I’d have preferred my ailment to have been labelled, ‘possessing a unique brain function with plenty of room for improvement’.
I think that other people going quiet upon hearing that someone has depression can make a sufferer feel isolated, insane, different and weird. Silence doesn’t help, nor does smothering someone or trying to force them into social situations. I guess sensitivity is key and everyone’s different, but if there is ever any doubt, I don’t think it hurts to ask a person if they need space, time, help or company. The gesture in itself lets a sufferer know that you’re there.
An extract from The Happiness Quest: A depression survivor’s journey from misery to joy by Lana Penrose (Finch Publishing). This book is available in paperback and ebook nationwide. Lana Penrose is a four-times published, bestselling author, counsellor, beyondblue speaker and Lifeline crisis support volunteer. See Lana's website HERE for further details.