What the play did for me was make me question my own reaction to mental health issues and, if I am being honest, it left me squirming in discomfort, more than just a little bit. There is no denying that mental health is one of the last taboos and there is lots of stigma attached to mental problems, which are often portrayed as a bit of a joke. People who suffer from mental problems assert that their plight is made inestimably worse because of this.
The problem is, unless you have suffered from terrible depression or crippling anxiety, it’s impossible to really understand what someone in the grip of the black dog might be going through. I have to confess, if I am being ruthlessly honest, that I tend to be
one of the blundering but well meaning people who think: pull yourself together. I am not stupid or ignorant enough to think that this is either helpful or fair; it’s just that I have no reference points with which to try and understand how to help someone debilitated by these problems. Consequently, I am trying to foist my own coping mechanisms onto others.
I very much live my life by the philosophy that if I ignore something it will eventually go away. And I have to say, although experts disagree with me, it pretty much works for me. I’m sure it’s not healthy and I probably have untold demons just waiting for their
opportunity to grab me by the throat and make me pay for shoving them away somewhere dark and hidden. I am of the opinion that the worst thing you can do is try and talk problems out. Now this flies in the face of all expert opinion, but surely talking about a perceived problem just gives it credence and makes it seem more real. Far better, for me, is the option of never acknowledging it and starving it of any attention so that it will slither away somewhere else, hopefully to die.
I know there are people struggling with horrific situations that would bring anyone to their knees. I also understand the concept of chemical imbalances in the brain that cause depression. I truly know what it is like to be so traumatised you can barely function. When my dad was ill, it was two years of hospitals, chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, sitting in rooms with doctors with no idea of what they were talking about other than it was life or death. It was as if the world had opened up to suddenly reveal the most terrifying version of hell you can ever imagine.
I’m sure one of the reasons why it hit me so hard was because, up until that time, I had lived something of a charmed existence. Bad things happened to other people and I had somehow sailed though life with nary a scratch. I know I was extremely lucky and some would say naive but that brush with life and death was my wakeup call. Looking back I was possibly depressed for the whole two years. When I wasn’t at work or the hospital, I would lay unmoving on my bed, in some sort of locked in syndrome
trance. However, what I learned from the whole hellish experience was that life is short and precious and not to borrow problems because real ones could be upon you soon enough.
This then is the crux of my prejudice when it comes to mental health; I really struggle to understand the fears that grip people that bear no relation to reality. I am not saying this to belittle them or deny that they are real, I have friends who are crippled by
panic attacks and phobias and I have seen their distress first hand. But, I simply don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I get fear. I hate flying, the whole thing seems completely unnatural to me. I spend the whole time I am in the air fearing that the plane will plummet to the ground and kill us all. This is compounded by my dislike of being squashed in such a small confined space with
my fellow man, which never fails to inspire a deep irrational hatred of everyone on board. However, I accept that if I want to get from A to B, I just have to put up with it. It’s hard then to see why my friends’ fears are so severe they not only can’t do the thing that they fear but they can end up having a full blown melt down in the most public of places.
I know that these fears and anxieties are real because they ruin peoples’ lives but my primary reaction is always the idea that, if they wanted to, they could somehow fight it. On an intellectual level, I know that this is very wrong and I wouldn’t have the same expectations of someone with a physical illness but it doesn’t stop me none the less. Thinking about 4.48 Psychosis then and questioning my own response and prejudices to mental illness, has made me realise how complex the issue really is.
I’m not sure how the stigma can ever really be dismantled because it is such an intangible subject. I am a reasonably intelligent, kind person, who would never discriminate against someone because they are different. Why then, when my heart is filled with
compassion for my friend who can’t be in public places, is my head screaming, for God’s sake pull yourself together?