This blog is inspired by my friend who coming to terms with her depression with courage and grace. May the world be a more compassionate place to support your understanding, acceptance and recovery.
There are several taboo topics in both life and the workplace. Along with politics, religion and sex, any discussion about mental illness appears to be a career-limiting move. Recruiters advise against declaring a mental illness on an application form to a new employer. Most people I know would go to considerable extremes to hide their struggle with anxiety or depression from their boss.
Yet declaration of illnesses such as heart problems or diabetes is likely to trigger understanding and compassion.
Mental illness is a reality in our world today. Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with almost 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. Between 8-12% of the population experience depression in any year. (Statistics from Mental Health UK.)
In recent weeks, I’ve read two great posts on this topic of mental illness. One is from the employer perspective and explains why he chose to hire someone with depression. Her self-awareness and transparency are what prompted him to hire her.
The other post is from Sarah Fader who speaks bravely and clearly about her life of living with anxiety. She offers up her experience of being on the harsh end of well intentioned but hurtful talk from those who haven’t experience of the illness.
These stories strike a note with me as I have my own story of mental illness – a mild depression that’s plagued me since my early 20s and that once required medication. I’m fortunate in that it’s mild. And yet it was serious enough for me to have read all I could to understand the illness.
Yet my real learning has not come from the reams of medical literature but rather from an acceptance of myself. I needed compassion for myself as I integrated this part of me with the rest of me.
Other people’s response to my mental illness story is usually in the category of “You? Really? But you are so normal.”
We are brought up to believe in the crazy face of mental illness. The crazy, mumbling bag lady is clearly burdened with a mental illness, but the nice young man in accounts? Surely not.
What stops us speaking up? Fear and judgement. Not being normal. Not being accepted.
I’ve learnt a lot about myself in my own coming to terms with the depression. I’ve learnt I can recover. I am bounce-back-ability. That’s a fantastic super power. And I’ve learnt the depression is part of me, like my green eyes, but that it’s not all of who I am.
Every time I speak up about my experiences of depression, someone comes forward to tell me their story for the very first time. It happens every time and it still catches me off guard. I have come to realize there is huge learning and healing in conversation. And that my own challenge is to continue to speak up just like Sarah Fader continues to do.
I’m prompted to write this blog for just such a reason. A close and dear friend is coming to terms with her depression. It’s a new and terrifying place for her. As she shares her experiences with me, I am reminded just how terrifying it can be. It’s a world of unknowns and what I want for her is the world to respond compassionately to her.
There are many things in our lives we don’t understand. It’s easy to become defensive when we meet with experiences not of our own world. Let us connect with our humanity in the face of this unknown – mental illness – and offer compassion and understanding to those who are just trying to make sense of it all.
Photo credit: Ryan McGuire (free of copyright restrictions)