Blog Against Disablism Day 2010: My Invisible Disability
I've recently started saying that I have an invisible disability. It's not easy to do, for several reasons.
I suffer from depression. It has its patterns - it comes every few months, for example. It's a cycle of lethargy, distractedness, and general sadness. If I keep active and focus my energies into work that I think is positive, it lifts after a while (I never notice when). If I don't, or have no recourse to take time off to deal with it, then it stays until the next cycle. It's why I don't like the idea of long-term work - the concept of continually working the same job with simultaneous projects on the go and no rest periods in between is a pretty quick way for me to "get the blahs". I prefer focusing on single projects at a time. (Which is also how I tended to write my undergrad papers.)
I've been to my incredible university doctor about it several times. She always asked if I want to take something for it, but I've always declined, because it comes in cycles... eventually I wouldn't need those pills. Furthermore, when I'm not in a downturn of the cycle, I function the way people are expected to function.
I've mentioned it casually before that I suffer from depression. People who don't know me well, who rarely speak to me, are always surprised: "but you're so energetic!" / "You're so cheerful!" / "You're so positive!"
Well, I want to say to them, of course I am. Would you rather I not be?
Because I know the consequences of not being energetic and cheerful and positive: "Why are you so lazy?" "Why are you such a downer?" "How come you're always so negative?"
Part of mentioning this is defensive - when the time comes for me to reserve my spoons, I want it out there so people know to expect it of me at some point, and I can restrain myself from taking on too many commitments. Sometimes I don't mention it, and people notice my sudden slowness, and they ask me if something is wrong.
Nothing is "wrong". I'm simply slowing down to let my body and mind deal with something that's been with me for my whole life. Things that are pleasurable become a bit harder to do, but they are no less important to me. I just need a break.
I sometimes stay silent because I don't want to burden people with the knowledge that they cannot help me at times, because there isn't anything to be helped; it just is. I just am. Other times, I stay silent because I don't want to look like I'm making excuses for myself. For the longest time, I've always seen depression as This Thing, It Bugs Me, But Is Not A Disability.
There is one social circle I have never mentioned my depression within: my family's friends in Malaysia. I have mentioned it to one or two people, but I have never openly spoken about it. Part of it is because my mother always seems to be ashamed of the fact that I have admitted mental health issues. Part of it is the social stigma attached to mental depression, still, even though it is becoming more and more clear that this is a growing problem.
I would like to start changing that in my life. I am by no means a failure in life: I graduated cum laude with Honours, I have done a variety of extra-curricular and volunteer work, I have been an active participant in social justice spheres, and much of my limited working life has been in service to others. When my mother is ashamed of me, she is so because I've not fit her ideal of a success in life: I'm not working, I cannot support myself, and I don't work in a field that would bring in a lot of money. She has wondered aloud, often, what it is she has done to deserve failures for children.
My depression is a setback. It means I cannot be continuously gung-ho about things like I would like to be. It means that sometimes I have to withdraw from the world or be overcome with exhaustion. I am easily fatigued. Some days, I want to sleep in the entire day and not have to face the world. Other times, I imagine being in a situation where I wouldn't have a tomorrow to deal with.
This doesn't make me a failure, and it doesn't make me, or anybody else like me, any less of a person deserving basic respect and consideration.
So, I'm going to talk more openly about my depression when I have occasion. I'm going to show acquaintances that yes, this person you regard as highly intelligent, hyperactive and self-confident also suffers from a mental illness that holds her back from thinking clearly, fatigues her, and ruins her self-esteem. I would also like to stop apologizing for not responding as cheerfully as I would like to - my friend Tariq has chided me, rightfully so, for doing that before.
In return, I would like the understanding of the "normal" people around me that I am not any less fragile or worthy for this. I would also like to not get looks of pity. Haven't gotten any yet, but I think I will.
Paradoxically, I would like the courage to make this an act that doesn't require courage, because it would be so normal to do so.
I have an invisible disability. Somehow it hurts to admit it. To say out loud to myself. And I would like for it to not hurt anymore.