BY BRITT GORMAN
Editor's Note: Britt Gorman is a 30-year-old artist (see her site here) who took part in Yasaman Gheidi's Inside Out Challenge, which calls to destigmatize mental illness by showcasing it. Artists would use makeup to show how they feel inside ... on the outside. This essay, by Britt Gorman, explores the perception of mental illness. — Lisa Marie Basile
I write this to lessen the appeal of mental illness for people like myself. That sounds backwards, but bear with me.
Depression, as I knew it as a teen, was somehow fashionable and romanticized. It was like a forbidden lover: elusive, tall, dark and sexy. It was rarely talked about, and even then only in whispers. In film and literature the brooding, troubled characters always had such allure. How tantalizing! I thought, how could anyone find me boring if I was — as some people make synonymous with depression — dark and poetic? Why would I be "basic" when I could be melancholy and complex? I would be a modern vampire, living in a state of mourning even though no one had died. I was depressed, and I loved it. I found satisfaction in scarring my skin and filling notebooks in dark corners before crying myself to sleep at night. I picked my symptoms as if from a menu. I was on a personality diet, trimming away the bits that didn't fit my brooding cliche.
Years later, after some mandatory family therapy and jump-starting a normal life in the real world, I had nearly forgotten about that life chapter. It was then that I met real Depression for the first time. Not my fashion statement, but the chemical imbalance. My ability to just "snap out of it" was no longer there. I couldn't explain it. I didn't want it.
I became the girl who cried wolf.
I used to try depression on like a pair of shoes, but it was really there. Under my skin. Depression re-introduced me to Anxiety, an old childhood friend, who set up permanent residence in my brain. That voice is always there, with endless commentary about every conversation I have and decision I make. It's loudest when I meet new people, and jerks at my heart like it's a puppet on strings.
Not wanting to be a cliche (again), I didn't talk about it. Instead of saying "I can't tonight, I had a panic attack and need to rest." I would feign getting a cold. Or financial troubles. Or needing to work late. If no one knew, I could pretend it wasn't there.
As I approached 30, I either became brave or tired. I stopped fabricating normalized reasons for my extreme moods or needs, and the consequence that I had feared was overwhelming. I was loved, so if my friends or family thought less of me for it, they didn't say so. They encouraged me. They cut me slack. They told me they were there for me if I needed them. I met with a doctor and am currently exploring my options with therapy and medication. There isn't anything poetic or elegant anymore. It's my new normal, and just about everyone knows about it.
I was 100% responsible for my choices, and I won't blame anyone else for my mental mess. (I know that I am luckier than most, and privileged to have the friends and family that I do.) However, I wonder how different my teen years would have been if depression wasn't such a performance, a dark mystery. And if the general population was open about mental illness, I might not have been attracted to something I didn't actually understand.
My challenge to everyone without a mental disorder: learn about them, and talk about them. Teach your kids about anxiety and depression the way we teach them about the flu or chicken pox. Acknowledge that they are difficult, but they are also very common.
My challenge to everyone with a mental disorder: Don't treat these disorders like they should be everyone's deepest darkest secret. If you have one, be brave and start to open up to your loved ones. If people meet you with fear, counter that fear with information.
I have a lot of faith in the human race. We have made incredible progress in awareness and treatments in a relatively short period of time. Let's keep that progress moving in small ways, every day. Speak up.
Find Britt Gorman at www.seventhskin.etsy.com