By Tom Wavre
“I’m not faking being sick, I’m faking being well.” I sometimes wonder if this misconception is one of the biggest barriers to defeating the stigma around mental health. Some people seem to think we fellow sufferers use it as an excuse, or are just playing up on smaller symptoms to get sympathy or get out of commitments.
I wonder what part of having a mental health condition looks attractive enough that I would fake having it? Is it the on average lower wages, or the likelihood of losing my job? Perhaps people think it’s fun to be in a stigmatised demographic.
Those who hold those opinions believe that we are just acting, and that is where I agree entirely. I have spent years acting, doing my upmost to appear healthy, of sound mind, clear of depressive thoughts. I have obsessed about appearing ‘fine’ and spent huge amounts of energy being someone I am not.
I avoid your sympathy as much as possible, I loathe getting special treatment because of it. I fight everyday for my mental health and I fight every day to not make it obvious. Just one of those is exhausting, both is another level. I recognise my depressive traits and I aim to hide them. I recognise the things I find the hardest when depressed and to avoid detection I put so much energy into doing them.
We don’t want to cancel plans, we don’t want to miss that deadline, we don’t want to call in sick, we don’t want any of these things. We convince ourselves we are being judged horrendously even when we aren’t. Our worst critic is living inside our head, the external critic is really not required.
I long to be ‘normal’, to not have to have this daily battle, to be able to go through the daily routine with ease. Life when healthy vs life when in a depressive episode are hard to compare. The difference is enormous, things that aren’t even ‘things’ when healthy can be near impossible when depressed. The lack of understanding from others and the fear of stigma makes those differences even harder to bear. There is nothing glamorous or attractive about depression or anxiety or other such conditions.
One day perhaps society won’t force people to expend the energy they could be spending on fighting depression on pretending they don’t even have it in the first place.
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