I Will Not Be Shamed
Bright. Loving. Funny. Caring. Intelligent. Resilient. Strong. Kind. Compassionate. Witty. Passionate. Sarcastic. Silly. Tenacious. Accepting. Outspoken. Warm. Vivacious. Creative. Dedicated. Real.
A few months ago, I posted an article on Facebook about people who conceal their depression. I prefaced it by saying that I have major depression and that the article hit home. It was amazing how many people responded, saying that they would never have guessed that I have a mental illness, that I hide it well. So I thought I would poll some Facebook friends to see how they saw me. After randomizing my entire friend list, I asked 100 people to write three words that they thought described me. The results, as seen above, were humbling.
I wish my depression would allow me to believe them.
Depression is a thief. It steals your identity. It whispers that you are no good. You are worthless. You are less than. Everything you do is bad. The voice in my head constantly says, “If you really are as smart as people think you are, your life wouldn’t be such a mess.” Or it says, “If people only knew the REAL you, they would never speak to you again.” Or, “How dare you think that what you write/say/do/feel is even remotely good? YOU ARE NO GOOD.”
Our society doesn’t accept mental illness. It is too scary, too illusive. We have no problem talking about cancer or heart disease or erectile dysfunction. We walk for cancer, run for heart disease, and sit in bathtubs in the middle of alpine meadows for erectile dysfunction. When a friend tells us she has breast cancer, we spring into action, praying and making casseroles and setting up carpool groups. If a friend is brave enough to admit she has depression, we giggle uncomfortably and change the subject because we think that she should just think happy thoughts and get over it. Even health insurance companies penalize people with “behavioral health issues”. I have to pay significantly higher premiums because I see a psychiatrist and a therapist. The stigma surrounding mental illness still stands.
When my sister killed herself, her friends were shocked. I cannot count the number of people who came to me, asking questions, saying that they never knew she was struggling. She never admitted that she had bipolar depression and borderline personality disorder and body dysmorphic disorder and other mental illnesses because she was ashamed. She felt that she should be able to just get better. She could not accept that mental illness is just like any other chronic illness. It is like lupus or diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. It takes monitoring and medication and patience. But she bought into what our society tells us about mental illness. She believed she was no good.
It is 2016. And yet, the stigma surrounding mental illness is still just as strong as it has always been. It is the stigma that still surrounds mental illness that keeps people from asking for help. It is the stigma that still surrounds mental illness that allows insurance companies to force people who do seek treatment to pay more. It is the stigma that still surrounds mental illness that causes 22 veterans to die by suicide every day.
Mental illness is not a moral judgement. Because someone suffers from depression does not mean that she or he is a Bad Person. Mental illness affects the young and the old. The rich and the poor. Male and female. It does not care where you went to college. It does not care what your address is. It does not care what kind of car you drive. It can and it does affect ANYONE.
I’m tired of hiding. I’m tired of being ashamed. I’m tired of people I love committing suicide because the stigma that surround mental illness keeps them from seeking help. We have to change the way we think about mental illness in our society. So I will start.
I have depression. I have a mental illness. I will not be shamed.
Lee Virden Geurkink (seen here with her sister, Rachel) hopes that by standing up and admitting in a very public forum that she has major depression, others might change the way that they view mental illness and that some of the stigma attached to mental illness will crumble.