Apparently, depression isn’t real, or so we’re led to believe, or at best it’s just a trumped up version of melancholy for society’s weakest to band about as a modern day ‘bad back’ disclaimer, some Monopoly get out of jail free card we can swipe at our employers, as though we’re waiting in line at the self service, to tap them up for a couple of extra days at home each year when we’re having a ‘woe is me day’ (one of my favourite derogatory terms I’ve had personally applied).
What a load of complete tosh! If it wasn’t real then how come my life insurance premium got hiked up above the initial quote after the underwriters had checked my medical records and discovered I had a checkered mental health history at best?! I’ve worked in law all my professional life, currently for motor claims representing insurers and let me tell you, when the fat cats are factoring into their loss adjusting process pre disposition towards psychiatric injury based on a history of depression which basically means you’re more susceptible towards psychological trauma owing to earlier bouts of mental illness, then we’re no longer in the realms of make believe.
There are other ‘invisible illnesses’ out there that don’t get half the stigma. My dad had arthritis, and spondylosis to name but a couple, but no one questioned those conditions, well except for the odd dunce in a car park who’d question his validity for a disabled spot and a blue badge because obviously if you’re not limping like Verbal Kent before his reveal as Keyser Soze or are wheelchair reliant, then you’re not ‘properly’ disabled.
But the term disabled isn’t strictly indicative of loss of limbs; it simply means the sufferer is just that, that they are suffering, and whilst their condition debilitates their ability to function it does not necessitate the need for physical proof of their pain – the bruises are there, if you look close enough, if you listen, they’re just on the inside.
Or maybe the whole disbelief or unwillingness to give validation to the seriousness of mental health is because in today’s throwaway age where everything has a limited shelf life, it’s just too ‘meh’ a topic, you know what I mean?! We exist in a climate where everything has to be bite size, we even band about mashed up words such as ‘flanter’ and ‘prinks’ (don’t get me started!), depression is just too ‘beige’ to grab the headlines. It’s not got the requisite contoured cheek bones and fake breasts to hog the headlines!
The law began to recognise and award compensation for psychiatric injury years ago, for ‘shock’, which didn’t just apply to the primary victim, but to secondary victims also, say such as a bystander to a collision, which again emphasises the importance of recognizing unseen trauma the body is struggling to process.
Imagine if people could see our tormentors as they manifest; if they could hear the gremlins as they begin to whisper, as Lord Varys spiders begin to unfurl their needle legs. I’m a big Tarantino fan, so my depression, when he walks on set, is called Mr Grey and he has an arsenal of methods for crippling me and essentially that’s what I become when he makes an appearance, I fade to grey, the real Tracey Wright can’t stand up, she can’t come to the phone, she fades into the blackness.
But time waits for no one, and like you, I have bills to pay and small children to chase, so you feign tight smiles as the vice clamps over your temples, and duly engage in appropriate small talk as you drop the kids to school, trying to ignore the familiar tension of the muzzle that slips over your face. You do the necessary, immerse yourself in the everyday and run on autopilot, pulling the handbrake up in the staff car park wondering how the hell you got there and why you’ve damp cheeks.
For me depression conjures the image of that film with a harassed looking Michelle Pfeiffer ‘What Lies Beneath’, it’s like trying to see through a two way mirror, or looking at an iceberg, you’re only ever glimpsing half the picture.
And before the #KeepYourChinUpBrigade or #CheerUpItMightNeverHappen lot pipe up, yes I do appreciate that I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a husband who hasn’t done a runner yet (mainly because I hide the keys) and two gorgeous girls I probably don’t deserve and two other babies I only had the pleasure to carry for a while. But why is it we feel the need to defend our diagnoses of mental illness? That kind of pressure to defend your health when it’s in decline doesn’t help. Growing up my mum used to serve up far too generous portion sizes at mealtimes, and halfway through dinner, when the meat sweats took hold and you wondered if you’d make it to the other side of the plate, the finger of authority would wag and she’d remind you there were starving children in other countries and whilst this appalling fact still remains, the guilt of just how lucky I was not to have been born into poverty didn’t ease the fact that I had a food baby bulging my abdomen to rival any scene from Alien.
My dad used to say “you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family”, which always makes me chuckle, and likewise, you can’t pick the hand your dealt with regard to your mental health. But a clinical summation isn’t all that we are; our skin cuts and our hearts break just the same.
Maybe, as a species, despite all our collective riches and innovations, we’ve simply forgotten how to show compassion. We’ve forgotten what it is, to be human.
Remember that pain lies behind smiles just as easily as tears.
Take care of yourself, nurse every inch.