Monday, December 14, 2015

On Shame

One of the funniest things about having depression - and there are lots of very funny things about it, if we're being honest - is the way you keep hearing about the importance of "fighting the stigma". It's hilarious because so many people are scurrying around, wittering on about "stigma" as if that's the greatest challenge, as if we who suffer from depression are horribly beleaguered by other people's opinions of the illness. If only, we are led to believe, we could just change attitudes in society, it would be so much easier. We got to get rid of the stigma.

We're told this as if the media, the internet, the very world itself isn't utterly saturated with people starting conversations and exploding myths and shattering taboos and endlessly, unstoppably combating STIGMA at every turn. Reducing the stigma of depression is one of the twenty-first century's greatest growth industries: you'll certainly get a lot more praise for fighting depression's stigma than you'll ever get for, say, treating people who actually have depression. The noblest thing you can do with regard to depression, apparently, is to talk about it, because not enough people talk about it, and we won't ever slay the Depression Dragon until we can make sure there's not a single person left alive who doesn't talk about it every day of their goddamn lives.

But more than the Big Lie that We Don't Talk Enough About Depression, the insistence that we attack STIGMA is hilarious, because it assumes the stigma is an external thing. We bloviate about stigma as if any social approbation could possibly exceed the stigma that comes from within, as if it's even possible to worry about outdated attitudes to mental illness in the community when your mind is consumed with the unquenchable shame devouring you from the inside out.

Keep talking about stigma, as if stigma is a well-meaning idiot telling you to cheer up because they don't understand what's going on in your brain.

Keep talking and ignoring the stigma that is hearing your children cry because they're terrified by the outbursts of their father's broken mind. Keep talking because you don't know what stigma actually is, because you aren't sitting up in the middle of the night, staring into darkness and wondering how much damage you've done the kids this time, how many times as they grow up they'll remember the times their father lost control of his misery, how much their adulthood will be consumed by the lingering residue of a father's selfish self-destruction.

Keep talking as if there is anything in society's misunderstanding of depression that can possibly compare to the knowledge that you're ruining your partner's life because you can't help yourself, that every time you rush to the edge of the abyss to look longingly at oblivion you're killing a little more of the happiness of the people you love. Keep talking as if the real STIGMA isn't the guilt that you've caused yourself by forcing your own nightmare onto the shoulders of people who never did anything to deserve the burden.

Keep talking, and discussing, and conversing, and flaunting your overwhelming compassion, as if that famous STIGMA is anything like the humiliation of having the police come to your house, and threaten to pepper spray you, and take you away in handcuffs, for your own protection. And living the rest of your life knowing you so completely lack the most basic capacity for living as a functional human being that your own family has no choice but to treat you as either a helpless child or a dangerous animal, so beyond reason that talking to you isn't even an option: the only solutions available are pills and restraints.

I don't want to hear any more about stigma, because I don't care about stigma. The rest of the world can call me crazy, the rest of the world can call me a crybaby, the rest of the world can roll its eyes and say it's sick of my whining - and the rest of the world will do exactly that, and the ones who claimed to be the most understanding will be the first to tell me they're sick of it.

And the rest of the world can do that all as long as it likes, because I'm so ashamed and disgusted with myself that there is no stigma the world can inflict that is worse than the stigma I've grown inside myself. And all your efforts to combat the stigma will naturally achieve their main aim of making you proud of yourself, but they won't do a thing for me. Because I'm broken, and I know I'm broken, and I know my brokenness has hurt the people I care about time and time again, and I let that happen. I know that because of my depression, I'll always define myself by my reliable tendency to let people down. I know that my depression has poisoned my life and the lives of all around me, and I'll probably do it all over again, and worse, sooner rather than later.

So if you want to write a thinkpiece or a cute webcomic or a pithy tweet about the best way to rid myself of THAT stigma, go for it. But if all you've got is the same mindless trash about stigma and conversations and honesty, then feel free to keep it to yourself. We've talked too much about it already.