I was at a drinks party the other day when someone asked me what I do. "I run a mental health charity" I told them. "Charity work, how interesting", was the reply, "good for you! Why the interest in that, where did that come from?" "From my own experiences", I explained, "I've suffered from clinical depression my whole life".
Drop the mic.
The poor lady, previously an expert in small talk, found herself in, what I can only imagine she would later describe as a "pickle"; pressed in tightly, eyebrows raised, smile widened, goats cheese tartlets circling on trays around our heads, and I felt bad for her, and me.
I felt bad because she looked so incredibly uncomfortable, and she felt bad, presumably because this might have been the only time in her life when she didn't have a drinks party anecdote appropriate to break the tension. Or, if I'm being kinder, which I should be, she just didn't know what to say at all. It was, unenjoyable.
I decided to release her, "I'm feeling very well today though, and think the food is great, don't you?" and we resumed to lighter talk about which foods we liked and didn't and who we knew here and why, which was good, because frankly, I didn't feel like talking.
Sometimes I don't really want to talk to people about what I do, and who I am. It is, literally, depressing. I think we're under a lot of pressure to talk about how we feel and let it out, like some sort of damp demon is living under our tongues and we must expunge him by talking, TALK, talking will set you FREEEEE!
It's not actually that easy. I can say these things now, because I have the support of my family and some incredible friends who have stuck with me through the worst. I can say this now, because I've given up a lot of shame and sorrow that I used to carry around about my mental health. I can say this now because we're more open and understanding about mental health in society. But for years I didn't talk about this at all, I kept it to myself, I worked through it, hid it, lied all the time about it, and I have no regrets about that, sometimes, protecting yourself is part of feeling better.
Sometimes I do want to talk, but I don't want to talk to YOU, uncomfortable drinks party lady, or YOU, boyfriend who thinks "it's overreacting" or YOU friend who immediately tells me to get therapy. None of that is helpful. None of those reactions will help me feel better or give me a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, they put me an overwhelming situation in which I have to justify to YOU why I'm not overeacting or why I chose not to go to therapy.
This is part of the reason that I set up My Black Dog, I wanted to talk to someone who understood how I felt, someone who had been through it, someone that wasn't going to lecture me about mindfulness (can I get an eye roll please?). I was never quite sure how people would react if I shared this part of my life with them. for the most part, it's been ok, and people have been kind, but I have also had people simply walk out of my life when I have opened up to them, and that's something I wouldn't wish on anyone else.
Finding a good time to talk about mental health is hard, when is the right time? How do you bring it up? Maybe you don't want to stress other people out, or ruin a dinner, or be the bearer of bad news. I know I felt that way for a long time, still do. If you're not sure, come and talk to us, it might be an easier first step, we can guide you through opening up to other people, because we get how hard that can be. You don't HAVE to talk to anyone if you don't want to, but if you do talk to us, we won't drinks party lady you, promise.