It’s TIME TO TALK DAY and I’m not sure what to say. I’m feeling ambivalent. I’m very happy to support the above initiative because it’s vital that we talk. However, when I began to scribble notes to form this post I began also to realise depression and anger were the principle emotions emanating from the slanted words on the page.
We depressives can only speak subjectively, the illness is in our minds and I am minded to suggest always that it is by definition selfish. We therefore have a responsibility to ourselves to find ways through the darkest days (which as I’ve said before are in my case and incongruously the colour orange). But it’s not necessary, or even possible, to achieve this all by ourselves. We need help, from ourselves, from our loved-ones, and from our employers…
This is a drum I’ve banged many times before on this and other forums and I don’t pretend to want to stop. Employers. Do they understand mental illness? Do they manage it well or do they choose to manage it out? Would they react in the same way if I had cancer? Do they struggle with the issue because it’s invisible (a depressive seeing orange can have cheeks the healthy colour of gala apples)? Or are they suspicious of the illness in case it’s an invention to mask indolence or lack of ability or talent?
I wonder if this is what can give us a bad name? Any of us could claim to be feeling seriously ill when really we’re just ‘off-colour’, a bit like limping into the doctor’s surgery and claiming we’ve got sciatica then skipping out clutching a note for a week off work. So in a way I can understand the suspicion, because we can look fine, we can even have a laugh at the watercooler, and we can seemingly be able to do our jobs perfectly well. But of course we are not perfectly well, we’re seizing up inside and our engines are just conking out – because it really is a physical illness.
So it’s not enough for employers to give superficial valeting. It’s all very well giving us time off and the offer of a phased return to work, but there should be more responsible understanding of the illness and more constructive and sustainable support. Again, we have a responsibility here because we should never feel (or be made to feel) our workplace is a charity and we’re seeking preferential treatment or meekly feeling sorry for ourselves. We should be unembarrassed, proud even, to say we suffer from mental illness and we’ll need careful management if that’s not too much to ask.
With regard to my industry, which has such a voracious appetite and need for story, it always struck me as ironic that the assiduous mining of fiction meant overlooking the real-life stories of some of those at the coalface, who are in fact being crushed by the wheels of industry and savaged by the dog.
When I lost my job I was wretched, homeless and suicidal – the swanky lifestyle I’d been living was at a stroke demolished along with my soul. But who cared? And what can you do? You can choose to walk into the sea or walk on to the next thing. In my case the next thing was to buy a house on wheels and travel and write about some of the bad things but more importantly some of the good things in my world. In other words I was taking responsibility, some would say in an extreme way, but I was genuinely testing myself and dreaming that I could travel new avenues and perhaps draw attention to my plight. And I always knew there was a safety-net in the form of the many friends and family I’m lucky enough to turn to.
And that’s ultimately what I did, and it’s thanks to them too that I could drive to the beach (as I often did) and keep my feet dry.
So while I had misgivings about Time to Talk Day in terms of how it made me feel, I now feel less ambivalent because I’ve done just that – I’ve talked, and in talking I’ve reminded myself of all the good things in the world and all the good people who’ve helped me through, and all the good things about me that have also helped me through. I’ve needed help and I’ve needed to help myself. And yes, I’ve needed to talk. And it’s helped.