I have never publicly or openly written about my depression. If I’m being truthful, I’ve never really felt comfortable enough to do so. I find it difficult to be honest about the way that I’m feeling, even with my closest friends. For the last ten years of my life I have been weighed down by it, but I have not said the words “I suffer from depression” more than a handful of times.
I wear a smile on my face like a mask and use it to pretend – to convince myself – that everything is absolutely fine. I laugh at the appropriate moments, I attend all of the social events, and I act as if everything is okay. I have spent a lot of my time and energy encouraging others to be truthful about the way that they feel, to relinquish themselves of that stigma. But when it comes to facing my own truth, I put plasters on my wounds and try to get on with my life.
And, whilst I have never had anything published on my depression, I have published a fair few articles on other subjects – most frequently on gender inequality and feminism. For a long time, I never made the connection between the two. They were very separate parts of my life, with the common factor that I had grown up battling both, and my feelings had only become stronger with time. However, it recently occurred to me that they are, for want of a better word, symbiotic. For me, they are interdependent and writing about feminism has, in all honesty, helped me to deal with my depression.
In the most basic sense, writing has been more therapeutic than therapy itself. There is an authenticity that I feel I can project on paper that talking isn’t able to give me. My emotions don’t hold me back; my fear of being judged doesn’t take over. I have the freedom to express myself more honestly and I have found that writing about something I care about, something that I have emotions towards, is a liberating outlet. Conveying my words, my beliefs, has made me feel more open generally. The feminist narrative that I write about is the product of that passion: it is the protective layer that I use to detach what I am saying from myself. It is personal but not too much so. It is important but is not exclusive to my experience.
It would not be untrue to say that there is an element of animosity that is associated with both depression and gender inequality as well – there is denial over their existence and over the extent of that existence. Depression, and mental health more widely, are still heavily stigmatised. There is a lack of understanding, which means that the extent of the potency of depression is often undermined. “Everyone feels sad”, “but you’re always so happy” and “it’s all in your head” are but a few phrases that have been said to me, and others. With regards to gender inequality, there is the similarity that issues are often assumed to be over, or exaggerated. I have been told that things are “not so bad”, “we don’t still need feminism” and “we have come a long way”, as if this is a reason to stop fighting for it. Writing about the latter has been an outlet to convey my feelings on the former: I am able to communicate my dissonance over the way that both are challenged together.
I have also found that what I have learnt through feminist discourse has helped me understand my own mental health a lot better. In relation to inequality, if you have been lucky enough not to feel the effects of something, we call it privilege. I would apply the same truth to mental health. It can be difficult to know what it feels like if you are not affected by it, but to deny its existence is dangerous and careless. When I am faced with this ignorance, or lack of empathy, I take comfort in knowing that this is a wider phenomenon. I use the academic idea of standpoint as a framework to situate mine and others’ feelings. I still get angry, but that anger has a utility, which I try to redirect. I do not feel isolated by it, I empower myself with it, using it in an argument through words on a piece of paper.
In a similar vein, feminism allows me to deflect feelings from myself to the wider sphere. Feminism, or at least the feminism I subscribe to, calls for breaking down gender binaries, allowing us to be more free and true to ourselves. I spend so much of my time angry and upset with who I am and what I do, which is made significantly worse by my depression. Feminism gives me the opportunity to relieve myself from blame – blame which I know I should not be holding on to anyway. I don’t hate myself as much, I forgive myself, I even let myself believe that I am doing something good by standing up for a cause. That feeling is irreplaceable.
Experiences differ drastically but, for me, living with depression feels like living with a broken window. That which is meant to make me feel protected is instead shattered, leaving me vulnerable and cold. What is meant to allow me to see clearly and from a place of comfort leaves me with a freedom to see everything with heightened senses – everything is clearer and with greater precision. It adds rawness to my life but steals away my sense of security, so that I am left with shards to cut me and an opening straight to my weaknesses. If I sound like I am glorifying depression, that is by no means my intention. I will spare you the details but depression is a big part of who I am and my relationship with it has been volatile.
Like most women and like most people who suffer from depression, I have been told to smile on more than one occasion. For me, being told to smile is a prime example of how both gender and mental health are performative. There are expectations about how you should present yourself. There are assumptions about how you should feel. I don’t want to be defined by my gender. I don’t want to be defined by my depression. I don’t want to be defined by a single part of my identity. I want to be defined by who I am as an individual – not the individual characteristics that I comprise of. I want and I don’t want so many things. But in the meantime I will settle for this: writing about feminism provides me with a purpose. It has been a lifeline and a reason to keep hoping that things can get better. As someone who has lost most of my hope, this is invaluable.