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Dublin: 11 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019
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'I told my date that I had depression and he laughed and told me I was just lazy'

Natalie Marr looks at the stigma surrounding depression and other mental health problems

Natalie Marr Mental health activist at goneonfortoolong.com

LAST WEDNESDAY, A well-respected member of the beauty industry posted on Facebook that she was having to cancel appointments in order to give herself time to recover from a serious bout of anxiety and depression. In the post, this person apologised for having to cancel the appointments, but also for being a sufferer of mental health problems.

To think that someone who is suffering so much feels the need to apologise for who they are, when they should just be able to focus on themselves, is something that I believe is inherently wrong with society.

I feel so strongly about this, because I have also on a number of occasions felt the need to apologise for who I am.

My mental health history
My first encounter with depression and anxiety was in April 2010. I had been suffering from insomnia for almost two years. That, combined with the deaths of two close relatives, seemed to have been the trigger.

I went from happy, healthy Natalie, in my third year of university over in Scotland, to landing back on my parents doorstep, a bundle of anxiety and depressive moods.

I was lucky in the sense that it was obvious to my parents that there was something very wrong. My wonderful mum commented at the time that my illness was so acute, it made it very easy for them to recognise that there was a problem and to ensure that I got help right away.

My luckiness also extended to the fact that my family had the means to ensure that I was treated privately. Indeed, during another episode of severe illness in 2014, as detailed in my article of 12 December 2014, I strongly believe that it was this quick access to private medical care that, in essence, saved me.

In the past seven years I have suffered on and off from anxiety, depression, and mood instability. I know that there there are many, many people who have patience, care, and affection for those who suffer or have suffered from mental health problems.

Unfortunately, I have also encountered those who have treated me negatively.

Over the years, I have come to realise that, in all walks of life, there are going to be people who do not understand depression and mental health problems (even if they believe that they do), and who are going to judge those who do suffer. I try to my hardest to realise that it this is not a fault of mine, or a fault of anyone else who does suffer; It is their own preconceived (false) notions about mental health problems.

First date, no second date

One incident that I can recall to this day, was on a first date with a guy over in Scotland.
At the time, early 2011, I had taken a year off from university because it was felt by myself, my parents, and my psychiatrist that it was the best thing to give me time to get better without the stresses of university life hanging over me. Still, I used to go over and back every few weeks, visiting friends over there and reuniting with my beloved basketball team.

I had been chatting to a guy on Plenty of Fish and we had arranged to meet for coffee in Edinburgh’s Waverley station, a couple of hours before I was to get my train up to Dundee.

He seemed a friendly enough fellow, and we were chatting about work, life, and plenty in between. I was still cautious back then about giving the ‘gory details’ of my mental health history, and wasn’t particularly open about it.

However, when he asked why I had taken a year out of university, I reasoned that there was nothing wrong with being upfront and telling him the truth since he had asked so directly. I told him that I had been suffering from depression, was getting help for it, but needed more time before getting back into university life.

He laughed at me. Straight up laughed.

I remember the shock that I felt. I couldn’t believe that someone would laugh at something so serious, especially to a person they had never met before.

My initial thought was that perhaps he was laughing out of nervousness, not knowing what to say? Nope. His laughter was quickly followed by ‘that stuff doesn’t actually exist. You’re just lazy. You need to get out of bed in the morning and go and do stuff’.

My train wasn’t for another hour. I sat politely with him for the best part of that hour, listening to him telling me about a band that he played with, all the while thinking in my mind how stupid I had been to tell the truth, resolving that I would not be making that mistake again. Finally, a few minutes before my train, I said goodbye and left. Needless to say, there was no second date!

After effects

The date played on my mind for a long time after that. It may seem like a minor incident and one that could be brushed off quite easily, but it stuck with me.

It was the early days of my mental health problems which, at that stage, I had not accepted as being part of me. I considered it to be a separate entity to me entirely, and one that I had to fight to suppress, rather than my vastly different view nowadays that it is just part of who I am.

My experience with this guy (I can’t remember his name) fed into my belief at the time that I was a lesser person, that there was something innately wrong with me, and that I was weak. It wasn’t really until late 2014 that I started to properly accept my illness. In fact, my new year’s resolution for 2015 was to no longer be ashamed of suffering from mental health problems (I even wrote an article about it).

Day to day stigma

As I’m sure those of you who have personally struggled with your mental health know, it can be so, so hard to not stigmatise yourself. To not consider yourself a weak person. To accept that this is something that happens to you and it is not any less real or serious than a physical illness.

What makes it even harder to not stigmatise yourself is coming across those people who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, openly stigmatise you too.

There have been countless other incidents over the years in which I have ended up apologising for being me, particularly when it comes to people not understanding how ‘someone who has nothing to worry about in life’ (yup, that’s been said to me on a number of occasions!) can have anything that they’d ‘need’ to be depressed about.

I’ve been told to buck up. I’ve been told to stop being lazy. I’ve been told that going for walks will cure it. Gee thanks, I’ll just go for a walk down the road and I’ll magically be cured! I am not denying the fact that exercise – along with a good diet – can greatly aid a person’s wellness, but I strongly believe that thinking that it is a sole ‘cure’ is ignorant and unfounded.

I would love so, so much if there was a fix-all cure that could mean that I would no longer worry about when my next bout of anxiety and depression will occur. I would be so happy to know that I will never have to go back on any form of medication. Currently, I am virtually medication free.

The great debate that goes on in my head as to whether I should have children, for fear of passing on depressive tendencies to them, would go away if I knew that there was a cure. There are many things that I do, such as the exercise and good diet, to try to stave off illness as much as I can. However, I do accept that mental health problems will likely continue occur on and off throughout my life.

And I’m proud to say that I am no longer ashamed of who I am.

Hopes

I have many hopes.

I hope that the brave, strong person I mentioned at the start of the article manages to get out of the dark place that they are currently in, and that those around show them nothing but love and support.

I hope those who suffer from mental health problems understand that anyone who responds to them negatively has an inadequacy within themselves, and it is not because of an inadequacy within the sufferer.

Finally, I hope for myself that the strength and confidence with which I have typed these words continues to be a reflection of the strength and confidence within my own mind, no matter the darkness I may find myself in at times.

Read: Employees: Why do Irish companies still see mental health issues as a sign of weakness?

Read: Depression, bipolar and borderline personality disorder: The long road to diagnosis

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About the author:

Natalie Marr  / Mental health activist at goneonfortoolong.com

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