… to put words to the long silence, to voice things I have never discussed even privately. I was born into a family whose ethos was ‘put up and shut up’, while concerns about depression were dismissed as ‘neurosis’. So I write to you as neurotic – according to certain members of my family – and whatever that means!
Slowly, very slowly, mankind is crawling out of the caves on this issue. Mental health is opening itself up discussion thanks to blogs like this and the democratizing effect of the internet; it is even becoming fashionable, a cause adopted by various celebrities and royals. Thank goodness. Because thirty years ago (which in the context of human history is a billionth of a microsecond) if you were female and middle class you didn’t attend the institutionally sexist GP system in the UK with much hope of ever being taken seriously even for a physical health problem.
Whatever the 21st century brings us, one of its blessings will be an opening up of these Victorian attitudes surrounding illness of the mind. Sadly at the moment though this has not led to much increase in available resources. In terms of mental health service provision in the UK – especially for young people – the ‘Cinderella of the health service’ continues to sit by the cold hearth and rake through the ashes.
But even a greater understanding of mental illness is only ‘greater’ compared with what used to be understood; basically nothing. Early ‘treatments’ for mental health could easily be confused with scenes of medieval torture. Bessel Van Der Kolk in his study on trauma The Body Keeps the Score recounts horrific stories of when he started as a trainee in psychiatric hospitals of patients being hosed down with cold water. And we are not talking about the 18th century here. That is where mental health ‘treatment’ was in the 1960s! That’s before we get to the lobotomies and the electro shock therapy.
I do believe that we are all interconnected. Environmental factors and damage to the ecology which supports the human race must play a part in the increases we are seeing in depressive illnesses. One day our governments may wake up to the fact that sick individuals make sick societies and that purely economic modes of thinking are outdated. That hasn’t happened yet.
On a day to day basis I try to set goals and determinations and move ahead in some way, even if just a millimetre at a time. I used to belittle myself constantly in my thoughts and conversations. I don’t do that now. Ever. Without making excuses, on days when I really can’t then I try to accept that today I really can’t.
Buddhism teaches the principle of “cherry, plum, peach and apricot” – that all things have their unique beauty and mission. Every person has a singular mission… his or her individuality and way of life. That is the natural order of things.