My neighbour, not a close friend but someone I know well enough to talk to when we meet in the street, has a small dog with an interesting interpretation of the world. I recall this dog, not in terms of its breed or size or general temperament. Why I mention this dog at all is due to a not so obvious similarity I have detected between this dog’s interpretation of the world and those in the medical profession’s attempts to treat my problems.
My problems are in my head, that is to say they are mental health problems. There is not really a conspiracy against me. There are not people stealing thoughts out of my head. My episodes of rage and anxiety and depression are not responses to environmental stimuli, but rather a sign that something is amiss inside my brain.
The little dog’s problems, on the other hand, are all those fucking trains that keep coming to the bottom of his garden all day long. Now this garden belongs to this dog, he left his scent everywhere so these fucking trains should know to stay away. But the fuckers keep coming back. So he keeps chasing them away. When a train comes he runs to the bottom of his garden and barks as loud as he can. This obviously scares the trains because they keep going right passed his garden. The wee dog knows that he can chase the trains away, he has observed the evidence. A train comes, he chases it, the train goes away.
My doctor knows that she can chase away my problems, she has observed the evidence. When I feel down she prescribes me drugs. My symptoms recede. The wonder drug has worked! The drugs are reduced and she congratulates herself for chasing away my demons. But the fucking trains keep coming back. Fucking bastards! He’ll catch one one day you know! So she increases the drugs to chase it all away, and it all seems to go away, so she was right again. And so I’m not on the higher dose any more, and then I am cos I have the demons to chase away again. And so on and on forever. The drugs keep chasing away the demons and the wee dog keeps chasing away the trains.
Actually, let me start again.
I have a mental health problem.
You can’t see it but it’s real and at times it’s debilitating.
It’s an extremely difficult thing to tell people. I just spent most of this piece talking about a dog chasing a train, rather than just say I suffer from depression. That’s what the stigma does, it makes you want to hide it, keep it hidden, an embarrassing secret to be kept from the world. Everyone must think you’re normal. To have depression is not to be normal. Or to be more correct, it’s to be treated by others as if you are not normal. So you don’t talk about it.