Monday, 15 October 2012

Alone in a Crowd

Yesterday I took a walk into town, partly to take a photograph for my 365 day project; partly to get some exercise for my foot, which is causing me a lot of pain at the moment; and partly to get away from Star Wars on the television!  I took my book and planned to stop for lunch in town before walking home again.  From the time I left the house I felt as if I was being watched.  This is never a good thing; it seems to be a kind of anxiety-based paranoia that means I constantly feel that people are looking at me and judging me.  I feel desperately unattractive and that other people will be offended by my presence.  At times like this I would love to just be invisible.

I managed to get some nice photographs and even managed to ignore some funny looks as I took this one in town where it was quite busy.  I am trying to use my love of photography to overcome my paranoia and anxiety, with mixed success.  By the time I made it to Costa I was definitely ready to sit down!  I ordered and made my way to a table, being somewhat upset on the way by a man deciding he was going to sit at the table I was heading for and all but pushing me out of the way.  I struggled to concentrate on my book as I was feeling very anxious and conspicuous.  Eating in public is something I have a problem with, even on a good day, so eating when I was feeling so fragile was worse.  I felt guilty for eating and as if everyone was looking at me and thinking "no wonder she's so fat".

Some days I can relax in a busy environment, finding some anonymity in the crowd, but other days, like this one, I feel so devastatingly alone that it is as if there is a big neon sign above my head declaring my pathetic lack of company.  Every where I looked there were couples; families; groups of friends; but no one I knew.  There is a lot of truth in the saying that you can be loneliest in a crowd and that is exactly how I felt.

The feeling was crushingly oppressive, as if the world were closing in on me.  Walking home was difficult as the wish to be invisible was overwhelming.  In town where it was busy was bad enough but once I got closer to home and there were fewer people around it was even worse.  Being lonely in a crowd is horrible but it is preferable to the agonising feeling of walking past the only other person around.  When the road is quiet I feel the most threatened by the few people that are there and, even worse, the people that might be there that I can't see.  I know that my fears are irrational and I know that I am not in the least bit interesting enough for anyone to want to look at me but that doesn't change the feelings of panic and fear that assail me when I am out.  I wish I could just curl up in a corner somewhere and let the world pass me by.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Road to Depression

I was delighted to be asked to write a guest blog for Storying Sheffield, a project based at the University of Sheffield about accessible and universal ideas such as narrative, storytelling, history, and the environment.  The story I wrote about my depression can be found here.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Depression and Celebrity

Much has been said today about celebrities and their 'misery lit' autobiographies courtesy of India Knight's column in yesterday's Sunday Times.  I have not read Ms Knight's piece as it languishes behind The Times' prohibitive paywall; I even contemplated paying to read it but it would appear that this is not possible without taking out a year's subscription to the website.  I am almost certain that the last time I purchased a paper copy of The Times I did not have to commit to doing so every day for a year but there you go.

That being the case, I clearly cannot comment on the specifics of Ms Knight's article, although I will, in passing, comment on the unfortunate twitter storm that occurred as a result.  Whoever tweets on behalf of the mental health charity Mind clearly had a bad case of Monday morning-itis and did not really think through what they were tweeting when they appeared to call for followers to attack Ms Knight.  I am certain that the intention was merely to open up the debate but the choice of words was ill-advised at best.  Twitter's 140 character limit is notorious for leading to ambiguity and unfortunately Mind fell into that trap today, I'm sure that this will be a lesson well learnt.

To return to the subject in question, I do not find it at all surprising that many celebrities have suffered with mental illness.  After all, if 1 in 4 people have or have had a mental illness then it stands to reason that mental illness amongst celebrities would be in a similar proportion.  I get the point that these celebrities are writing their books, cleverly released just in time for the Christmas market, purely to make money.  I get the point that having a mental illness could be seen as being the 'in thing' at the moment.  I even get why some people may be getting bored with hearing about the 'struggles' of celebrities who have way more material success than the vast majority of us could ever dream of.

However, I cannot see how someone who has suffered a mental illness could write an honest autobiography and not mention it.  Surely it's a good thing that people who have suffered mental illness no longer feel the need to be dishonest and hide it?  I know that if I were to write a story of my life it would be impossible not to include the depression that has been such a huge presence for the last nine years.

Why should celebrities who have suffered mental ill health feel reluctant to mention it for fear of being accused of 'jumping on the bandwagon'?  Is it because they are perceived not to have any reason to be depressed?  If this is indeed the case then I despair of the stigma around mental ill health ever coming to an end.  Let's get one thing absolutely straight here: depression is an illness; it is not feeling low, having a bad day or even feeling sad for a while.  Depression can take over your life, the symptoms are far more than just feeling sad and no one, not even celebrities, need a reason to be ill.  Can you seriously imagine anyone complaining about celebrities mentioning in their autobiographies that they have survived cancer?  Why then should they feel compelled to remain silent about their depression or other mental illness?

I welcome the freedom with which celebrities talk of their mental illness, even if they then use their experience to make money by writing an autobiography.  If I thought anyone would read it, I would write a book about my own experience - I wouldn't say no to making a bit of money out of my own misery!  The point is, anyone saying they have or have had a mental illness should raise no more eyebrows than someone saying they have cancer, heart disease or diabetes.  Illness is illness, whether mental or physical should not matter.  So if you are one of those who have sighed when yet another celebrity has 'gone on' about their mental illness and maybe passed comment asking "what have they got to be depressed about", please, think again and end the stigma.