I am Paula Matthews, mother of two gorgeous children, wife of a kind and long-suffering man, university graduate, accomplished professional and descended from a distinguished family line. And I have mental health problems. Often times I can cover up my depression and get on with my day to day conversations without really showing what is going on inside. But it is always there.
Living with depression
Depression is not something to make light of (‘half the world is on citalopram’). It isn’t just a low mood that can be solved with a cup of tea and duvet day. Living with depression is a mammoth battle day to day, hour by hour, minute to minute. There are times when I leave the school gates in the morning looking like I am on top of the world and then cry all the way to work alone in the car. There are times when people ask me why I look pale and I tell them I have a headache. I don’t mention that I haven’t slept for days and days and I didn’t let myself eat breakfast because of the self-loathing.
I am not even going to try to tell you about the thoughts that roar like a storm in my mind all the time, even when I am asleep. But I will tell you that I am never free of them. Then there’s the pills, with the long process of trying to find the right one – I am not giving up on that, because I refuse to give up on myself.
Stigma, with its devastating effects, is an insidious evil, the enemy of anyone who, like me, is fighting this major battle. It makes people take advantage of my good nature when I am acting compliant. They don’t stop to think that I am like that because there is no fight left in me because of the exhausting victories I am winning in a world they can’t see. It makes people fail to take me seriously when I have something important to say. They don’t stop to think that while I have something going on with my mind, I still have capacity and am very intelligent – probably more so than they are. They can’t see that the very thing that makes them walk all over me to get their own way is the reason why I am actually fiercely resilient.
Sounding my voice
Sometimes, when I am in the right place to do so, I can sound my voice so loudly that everyone around me has to stop and think. Imagine if all the 1 in 4 people got together and sounded our collective voice. Imagine if we insisted that we hold no truck with stigma, what would happen then? Services might be better, the world of work might be fairer and we might be safer. So in 2018 I am going to carry on the work I began in 2017, sounding my voice, no matter how shaky it may be, in whatever medium my mental health permits.
Even if I get it wrong at times, since I am on a learning curve, I will not admonish myself for doing it. I am not a burden to other people. Everything I say is not wrong and I do not have to be afraid of what other people think. I am a human being of exactly the same value as everyone else. So I am going to seek out the people who understand that and push back the darkness of all toxic relationships in my life. I am well within my rights to do this because I am useful, I am worthy, I am 1 in 4 – and that’s ok.