Every day I try to write something for ruok day. Partly because of my own experiences with depression and anxiety, and partly because I think ruok looks like the sound a crow makes.
We talk about mental illness or health like it’s an on/off button. Like there’s a clear line in the sand between mental health and mental illness or disorders. You either have depression or you don’t. And maybe there’s some diagnostic usefulness in saying yes or no to those questions. But I think to some extent it’s an illusory perception.
I think it’s more like a continuum. And not a continuum where we occupy a single spot, in relation to other people. More a continuum that we move up and down, from day to day, moment to moment, through our lives.
That’s not to deny that there are people with greater or lesser levels of suffering. But I think that all of us are at least a little bit mentally ill. By which I mean most of us will at times during our lives identify with thoughts which might be characterised as typical of mental disorders. And unless we are seriously affected, most of us move in and out of healthy and unhealthy mental states.
I think people are often reluctant to discuss mental illness or suffering because of that perception that there’s a kind of fixedness to it. “I have depression” implies a certain permanence, or self-definition. There’s a kind of reluctance to apply the tag to yourself. I feel the same way. I hate the sense that people might view me through some kind of “depressed person” lens. Whatever that even means.
I prefer the notion that we slip in and out of states of mind. That we’re visited by depressive states of mind, which then leave us. Or anxious states of mind. They’re never “us”. They’re just nesting on us, like birds, or clouds settled on mountains.
Some of us are visited more frequently. For some of us the fog descends regularly and stays for a while, or the tremors of anxiety earthquakes last longer. But they’re not us. They don’t become who we are. We’re the mountain.
Maybe other people prefer to think of it in other ways, but that’s how I like to think of it, this year at least.
RUOK day, to me, is about encouraging people to reach out. But people don’t reach out because we tell them to. People reach out when they can see and feel that we’ve removed the stigma of mental illness from our perception, that we don’t judge them. And part of that is, I think, removing the sense of definitive, permanent labelling and allowing people to embrace the reality of their mental suffering without being afraid of having it forever define them.