Saturday, 24 April 2010

Of Black Dogs and Blogs

Kate Harding and Jay Smooth have something to say here:

Ok, so go away and read/listen to those two links that I posted up there before you come back and read this. It’s ok, I’ll wait.

Ok, back?

Right. This is more of a get-stuff-off-my-chest post than the usual Opinion piece that I tend to post. I’m actually writing this now on a WP, rather than straight to blog, because I don’t even know if I’m going to put this out there. But here goes:

I wrote one of the comments on that particular Shapely Prose thread, and even that half-hearted attempt was bloody hard. Even now, I’m struggling not to write out a list of what sucks about me, how I’m an awful, useless person – or qualify every single good thing about me with a “well, but so-and-so is better” or rather “I should be better.” I think it’s a really interesting discussion that should be had, and which I might start later – why women always feel they have to respond to compliments with a denial, or qualifying sentence – but it’s not the one I want to have right now.

See, I found that comments thread wonderful and painful to read at the same time. It’s amazing watching people be happy about themselves for a change, and acknowledge all the good things about themselves that make them awesome people. And not one of those posts seemed to me self-aggrandizing or boastful or stuck up.

But then I felt like crying, because I was thinking – why can’t I be like that?

Why can’t I be a published writer, instead of just an amateur? Why can’t I be a great singer, instead of just a mediocre one? Why can’t I be a great cook, or keep a spotless house, or do stand-up, or fix computers like a pro, or speak four languages like a native, or be someone or do something awesome like everyone else?

Why can’t I even do the things that I’m supposed to be able to do well? Like finish my novel(s)? Or send some short stories or poetry off to a magazine to get published? Or, hell, finish my God-damn PhD?

And then my “little hater” comes out and starts telling me that maybe I was never any good at those things that I supposedly do well. That I’m not just in a rut; I’ve actually reached my limits. That I don’t have what it takes, and deep down I know it, and the reason I can’t put pen to paper right now is because I’m putting off that moment of failure when the manuscript is finished and I send it off, and publisher after publisher rejects it, and I have to give up on the biggest and only worthwhile dream I have ever had in my life – to be a writer – without which my life is mediocre and dull, and just not worth anything anymore.

See, my “little hater” is called Depression. And right now it’s winning.

I’m not fishing for compliments here, or sympathy, so please don’t feel you have to post any. Nor do I, at the moment, need advice on how to cope, since I’m already taking steps in that direction. I just wanted to put that out there.

I don’t really think there is a conclusion to this. I want there to be a happy ending, or an uplifting sentiment for me to end on. Some sort of affirmation that we are all awesome and that I don’t hate myself really, but while the first bit of that is true, it would be disingenuous of me to lie and say the second half. The best I can come up with is this:

Mental illness is still a huge taboo in our society. Not enough people talk about it, or even acknowledge it. So I’m going to. It might be that the one way to get myself up and going and working again is to bleed this poison out of my system, and if that helps other people understand just a bit better, if it breaks down just a bit of that huge silence, and gets people talking, well that’s all to the good.

Expect more posts on this, and related topics.


  1. I don't think mental illness is as much of a taboo as that... I have friends who will happily tell everyone else about their mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, synaesthesia (not sure if that counts as an illness, but mental condition), biopolar disorder, and OCD amongst them. Yet, physical conditions are seem a lot more taboo to me; these same friends seem comfortable enough to discuss their mental condition, but wince/stay quiet or tell me "I don't really wanna know..." if I bring up an equally distressing or debilitating physical illness I have. Again, my personal experience seems to be different to the one that I am told is the norm. I grew up until coming to University pretty much thinking I was "the shit", confident, and very much "I'm Anisha fucking Gupta". People, mostly girls, seem to be strangely shocked, surprised or sometimes even dissapproving of this. Recently, occasionally, I have felt less of this, but not so much "I am not good at X and Y is better than this at me etc" but more "I hope that all my hard work pays off and I can make my husband and children and parents and friends happy and healthy and safe and loved because of my efforts" and I get saddened or worried when circumstances make me feel that this isn't the case, or that I am going to do something wrong by accident and seriously hurt one of my loved ones because of it.
    Bit of a get-this-off-my-chest here too, my "little hater" is fear and anxiety - I tend to not do something because I'm worried about the implications of getting it wrong. That aside, I embrace my "flaws" (from being a doormat and a pushover to having dry skin to low physical stamina to indecisiveness) and think, through everything I've been through, and I'm still on top, yeah, ofcourse I'm great, I'm Anisha fucking Gupta. I'm an awesome person but terrified of everything.
    I hope you get to live out all your dreams and find all the happiness in your life that you want, and that we can all banish our little haters to another place where they can be more useful.

  2. The real question PlanetNishy, is how many of the people you know have mental illnesses but /haven't/ told you? Or don't even know? A friend of mine spent years thinking she was rubbish at time-management and organisation, only to be diagnosed with dyspraxia most of the way through her degree!

    Sesquepadalia, whatever you think of it and whenever you can write it you always have at least one person who's keen to read it (when he has time...). Cos I love it, even if you don't always. 8-P

  3. With regards to the taboo around mental health - there are a lot of issues that I'd like to bring up when it's not 1am and I'm not just about to go to bed, but I have to say that my experience has been very different. When I first experienced depression, back in my late teens, I got told that my experiences were "hormonal" and I would "grow out of it". I didn't. Then when it re-surfaced again, the response was "but what have you got to be depressed about?". I kid you not.

    There has never been a time in my life, save perhaps early childhood, when I have not been painfully insecure about myself, and terrified of messing up and being ridiculed. Like I said, it makes me happy that there are people out there who can be justifiably proud about their achievements, and I have always hated the "race to the bottom" ( and the way women have to constantly negate their own successes, even (perhaps especially) with other women... but I can't be one of those people. Because 99% of the time, I genuinely don't think that my achivements, such as they are, matter. Or are any good.
    It sucks, and I'm going to have to deal with it. But not, perhaps at this time of night...

  4. That Tigerbeatdown article is FAB. I must say, I am amongst one of the "asshole" women, a la Jennifer, one of the commenters. If I'm out eating and another girl starts the "I wish I could have this but I'll get fat" shit, I tend to either say something like "Yeah, you will, and then you'll die, so you better make sure you never eat anything ever again. Because being fat is the worst thing in the world." or "Fat? Don't you mean fatter?".
    I do only tend to do the latter with close friends though..
    And the ganging up on a girl who shows a smidgen of body confidence, arrogance, cockiness, I've felt that a LOT. I dealt with it by realising early on that the issue was not MINE to deal with, but the insecurity of those bullying me. I dealth with it by being even cockier and more confident, and this led to me making some wonderful male friends for most of my adolescence. I tended to avoid having close friendships with girls for the reason that every time I did, it would end up in them being bitchy towards me, leaving me for a prettier/more popular girl, etc etc.
    I'd like to say I'm a feminist, but it hurts me that my somewhat bad experience with women has meant that I don't have a huge amount of faith in them generally, and I really really really wish they would stop trying to win that stupid race to the bottom. And as for the value of ones achievements or successes, the way I like to think about it, is that even if your achievements ARE good for nothing, worthless, etc, that doesn't change the fact that you can be awesome. A child beggar on the streets of a third world city, stealing and pickpocketing is not achieveing anything that *matters* but I don't think this makes them any less valuable or precious as a person. So neither am I.
    Depression is crippling and debilitating, and as I said, I hope you find your own peace and happiness, because you, and everyone else on the planet, deserve it. I have met a similar reaction from parents regarding depression and anxiety, and I don't blame them for it, as they grew up in totally different circumstances where mental illness was not so much taboo as it was almost a null issue as dying of contagious illness and finding your next meal was far more important, so it is harder for them to empathise.
    But amongst my friends, my generation in this country, I have seen mental illness become almost fashionable. And those with depression get more sympathy and patience than those with physical illnesses...
    Anyway, I hope you had a good night's sleep too :)

  5. You know, I really think you are right about this one, as I'm sure I told you on the phone just now. We undermine ourselves all the time and I do think it is bred into us, because we think (subconsciously) that we will be more attractive to the opposite sex if we aren't a threat to their breadwinning status. Not so long ago the only way a woman could increase her status was to 'marry well'.

    We may have the chance now to increase our status in a multitude of ways, but society hates us for it. Just look at how 'career women' are portrayed so much of the time. They're uptight, back-stabbing and secretly just waiting for the perfect man to complete their poor little lives.

    Our constant undermining of outselves may be motivational, but it can also make us think 'what's the point?' and feel miserbale.

    Let's make a committment to liking ourselves more and accepting compliments. We would want our friends to like themselves, so why should we want anything else for ourselves? It's not a crime to feel happy in your own skin.

  6. One of the reasons I'm glad I have been bred "Indian" or "Not Western", for things like this, it was never pressured into me to undermine my achievements or to argue back to compliments...

    @Nik - Of course that's an issue, but I still feel its talked about more than physical illnesses, which still seem to be considered more "embarassing" and "personal".
    And yeah, I also love reading everything I see on this blog Sesquepedalia (what does that word mean, I keep seeing it since seeing it on your blog...)

  7. Grr... the comments function doesn't seem to be working propperly, so I can't see the comment that I've *just published*, and so am now replying to something that I can only half-remember what it says...

    I do agree with Nik, in that I think Mental illness is actually seen as more shameful, in a way, as opposed to physical illness where it's quite obviously something you have no control over, and which is definitely not "brought upon yourself". Mental illnesses - we still don't know what actually causes most of them for sure, and because they're not very visible there is something of a tendency among some people to downplay them, or suggest that they don't really exist, or that someone's just putting it on to get sympathy. Plus, facilities for treatment are much more restricted, especially for things like CBT.

    But I really don't want to play the game of "I'm more disadvantaged than you", because that's just another race to the bottom, and I think we've all agreed that none of us like those ;).

    Thanks for all the encouragement re: the blog though, people; I'm really glad there's someone out there listening, and appreciating what I've got to say.

    Also: Sesquepadalia? That's been my internet handle since... well... ever. And it's still the one I use most often. It's spelled slightly differently, but originates from the word "sesquipedalian" meaning "liking big words".