22.08.2013 Depression

Get Talking

Depression sufferer Louise Keogh has learned the importance of opening up to others

I am in my late twenties and enjoy much the same activities as my peers. I like socialising, going to music festivals, reading and going on a man hunt at the weekend. I eat too much and have often absconded from a nightclub in favour of a pie. Many a time my worried friends have found me alone in a city eatery after I have slipped out of a bar. I aspire to write a book when I grow up. I hope to get married someday and have two sons. I want loads of dogs and to live beside the beach at some point. Oh, and I suffer from depression.

I am sure that there is one thing that people reading this will remember about me from the above paragraph and it is not that I am a terrible pie gobbling woman who abandons her friends in the middle of the night in favour of affairs of the mouth.

Ah yes, mental illness, the big pink elephant in the room, the topic of conversation that raises eyebrows, the silent malaise. Many who have it, choose not to voice it due to the stigma attached. Understandably, people can feel uncomfortable accepting an illness that is intangible. Equally, sufferers are fearful of how others will view them if they admit they have mental health problems. Fact is, depression is very very common and also very very treatable if given the chance to cure.

In my personal experience, self acceptance is a huge contributor to offering some relief. With depression laying down its roots in my early teens, I carried this, along with the usual youth grievances such as flat chestedness and bad hair. At 27, I still have the same issues. The only change has been that time and experience have taught me that sadness doesn't define me. It is an illness not a behavioural issue (as I once heard someone describe it, as if they were discussing a disobedient dog). But good friends and, at really low times, good medication, have helped to keep me on an even keel.

Time sometimes isn't a great healer but it can certainly teach us great lessons. Time has allowed me to come to terms with the fact that my depressive side has won the race and now outshines the true me. These days its presence is palpable. As with any illness, each individual's experience is unique. It angers me so much to hear comments from people like, "Snap out of it" or, "You have nothing to be sad about". Depression is not the same as going through a rough patch. I have found myself on occasions in the heart of a party or joyous family event and have felt a deep, deep sadness to my core. It is inexplicable. I find the best way to describe my depression is that I am two people. The functioning happy ambitious version of me has become detached and what I am left with is an empty shell. In my lucidity, I long to become whole again but I see the old me slipping away. More than anything, I want to be able to reach out and be heard. I want to be healed.

I blame no one for my affliction but I do feel an uneasiness with how mental health patients are being dealt with by professionals. I have visited countless doctors. Thankfully, I have not yet been met with cynicism but I have been greeted with nervous pity. It seems, in my experience anyway, that even the professionals don't know what to say. This is the barrier with mental health that needs to be broken down.

Depression is an illness, not a low point in someone's life that should make others feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Taking away the embarrassment will help eradicate the stigma thus helping to shine some normality back into the depressive's life. That is half the battle when you suffer in silence because of stigma and shame - nothing would feel better than feeling accepted in society again. Who knows, that person you used to know who's slipping away might start making her way back.

I cannot change people's opinion through a few paragraphs but I do hope that I might provoke some thought. I like anybody else experiencing mental illness am not different or crazy or mad. Clearly, I can express an opinion and still have a voice. The only difference is the big grey mush in my head that controls my feelings and emotions sometimes gets sick. It's as simple as this - if illness comes in the visible form when it affects our physicality, then surely it is perfectly viable that it can affect our psyche.

Like most things in life, it's going to take teamwork for us to come to grips with and tackle mental illness, involving effort from the sufferer and the non-sufferer.

I am not suggesting walking down the main street with a neon sign reading, "Kiss me, I have depression" to highlight your plight, but definitely confide in a friend. It's amazing how a few kind words can lift your spirit, not to mention help you shake off the feeling of exclusion that dealing with depression alone can entail.

If you are the person who offers a friendly ear, think; you could have a truly profound effect on someone else's recovery. And just to listen will help any doubter gain more clarity on something they didn't quite get before.

Depression does not define a person; it is one shadow, blotch, and stain on the life of someone who is otherwise the same as everyone else. Like medicine that cures physical ailments, talking can help take the weight off for a sufferer. We all know the old adage, 'A problem shared is a problem halved.' In order to get help though, one experiencing depression must be able to express their issues aloud without worrying about being labelled as an "attention seeker, crazy person" or other such stereotypes. I know people who suffer from depression who are absolute arseholes. I know well adjusted middleclass people who never brush their hair in the mornings. What am I getting at? That we can really only know a person truly through time spent with them, shared life experiences and through listening. We cannot make our mind up about someone based simply on one dimension of their lives. If you know someone with depression, let them talk - it may help lift the fog. Because that is all it is - smog temporarily clouding the true person who lies underneath, be it an arsehole or pie fiend.

The point of this, I guess, is for non-sufferers to learn that depression is very real. It is a tiny piece of a person who has hopes, dreams and aspirations, good qualities and bad habits just like everyone else. So get talking - without judgement. You might help someone find the missing piece of the jigsaw. I live in hope anyway.

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Louise Keogh

Louise Keogh is a young woman who openly shares her experience of depression.