NB: Before I start this post, I want to make it clear that this isn’t me making a well thought out political statement, and I’m probably not going to reach any positive conclusions. This is me not pleading for help, this is simply me letting out some of the hurt that I live with on a daily basis. I don’t want pity, I don’t want obligation-fuelled well meaning but nonetheless patronising comments. I get that enough already, and I’m fucking sick of it.
At age 14, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. At the time, being the naive and vaguely optimistic teenager I was, I thought that medication would “fix me”, that I’d take a few pills for a few months, and magically, it would all disappear, and I’d never have to think about it again. So when my doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant, I took it, and waited for it to build up in my system to the point where it was supposed to have an effect. It didn’t. So, I went back to my doctor, and still faithful to the medical establishment, I took her advice and increased my dosage. Again, no noticable effect. So again, I increased my dosage. After a while, this began to have an effect, but certainly not a desirable one – my sleep, already poor, became even worse, my appetite became totally insatiable (I put on around 15-20kg in just 2 or 3 months), and frequent uncontrollable mood swings were the order of the day. Clearly, I could not take this medication any longer, so my doctor switched me to another pill. A short time later, my dosage was again increased, to the point where I was taking twice the reccomend maximum adult dosage, at age 15. The side effects from this medication were similar to the previous one, only amplified massively. To cope with my severe lack of sleep (50+ hours without sleep wasn’t uncommon, and what little sleep I did get was in short bursts and unsatisfying) I was given sleeping pills, which at least gave me a few nights healthy rest.
All through this time I was also seeing a counsellor, an experience which I have tried my hardest to erase from my memory. It essentially boiled down to hours of being patronised, of being asked to talk and then not being listened to…I quickly began to dread my appointments and frequently refused to go.
As this dragged on and on, it got to the point where I decided I could take it no longer. While camping in January 2001, I threw all my medication into a river and swore to myself I would never take anti-depressants again, a promise I have kept to. And yet, almost 8 years since I was first diagnosed, my illness still effects me in every waking moment. Two or three times a year, during especially bad periods, I consider going back on medication, but the memories of the side effects are still too strong in my mind to allow myself to do that.
My illness definately marginalises me within society. I can think of a number of friendships I have lost due to it – both from friends, who, feeling unable (or unwilling) to offer any meaningful level of support that I have needed from time to time, have simply run away, and from people who’s response has been so patronising or otherwise offensive that I have lost any desire to be friends with them.
So often, people delegitimise mental illness. I have primarily experienced this in two ways. The first regards mental illness in a way that noone would ever regard physical illness – with virtual contempt for the sufferer. This way sees the sufferer as “too weak”, otherwise they would be able to “get over it”. The second, however, is more worrying for me personally, as I think it is limited to the anarchist/activist milieu, which is what I mostly hang out in – this is the belief that the sole cause of mental illness is the current capitalist, racist, patriarchal society we live in, and “after the revolution there won’t be mental illness”. To quote from an article I wrote a while ago:
Yes, it is entirely possible (and even likely) that the current society does make mental illness more common. But, just like how even in an anarchist society cancer would still exist, influenza would still exist, likewise mental illness would still exist. You might think you’re making a political statement when you say it, but what you’re really doing is invalidating the feelings and experiences of your friends and family that suffer every day
Now, while the idea is incredibly offensive to me, it is perhaps something I could deal with if people at least approached it on a politically consistent level. But they don’t. There are plenty of problems in society today that exist because of the capitalist, racist, patriarchal society we live in that wouldn’t exist if we destroyed capitalism, patriarchy and racism. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t actively work on them in the here and now. You don’t see people ignoring decolonisation work, or anti-rape work (both of which are incredibly important) because they wouldn’t exist if we smashed racism and patriarchy. So why ignore mental illness, even if you believe it wouldn’t exist in your utopia?
The lack of desire to seriously engage with the mental illnesses that so many people within my local anarchist community deal with has caused me to barely broach the subject with even my closest friends. But I’m sick of that. I’m sick of the silence. I’m sick of crying alone.