A recent invention that's taken hold on Twitter is Inspirobot, and if you've not played with it yet, you may wish to lose a few hours and enjoy the marvel that it is.
What's so amusing about this bot is it's play on words, it's nonsense take on well-being memes that are prolific on Facebook and such.
As someone who's lived through some pretty dark places, I find those "think positive" memes invariably trivialise what's really being felt. As if talking yourself out of suicide was as easy as simply thinking happy thoughts. These memes can be patronising and for the most part, empty. Yes they are usually well intentioned but just because something comes from a good place doesn't make it right, or mean that it has to be accepted.
By sharing these think-positive memes, online communities are perpetuating the habit of brushing emotions under the carpet. They're the digital equivalent of a pat on the head with a "there, there".
One aspect of the way emotional and mental health is framed that I find particularly troubling is the way we refer to people as "brave" when they share just how hard it can be. I understand where this comes from; it can and does take an awful lot of energy and courage to speak up, especially when it's something we're used to hiding. But when we accept that it's brave to talk about it, we accept that it's not brave to not talk about it, and that's damaging. We have enough shit in our heads to be dealing with without adding punishment for our silence. Feeling like we need to be brave to break the cycle in our heads simply adds another hurdle. It needs to be normal, not brave.
When I had my worst nervous breakdown, I ended up taking myself into A&E to report to the duty psychiatrist. I hadn't been able to help myself up until that point, all sorts of barriers stood in the way such as phoning to make an appointment or actually getting myself out of the flat to go and face the prying eyes in the waiting room. Taking yourself into A&E is an acceptable route and is far more discreet and immediate than just about every other route. And it was the best thing I ever did - I got straight into the heart of the local mental health services; no 16 month waiting list for therapy. They told me I was more ill than I was admitting and it probably saved my life.
When I tell people about this they tell me I was brave. I wasn't; it was survival.
Talking about my depression publicly isn't brave, it's my coping mechanism. I'm aware that it worries some people and others find it difficult to read, but it's not about them, it's about me. For too long I hid my experiences because I didn't want to upset anyone or cause anyone to look too closely; I'd learnt not to talk, that I'd be judged, and in the long run that only did more damage. Would you ask someone with a physical disability to not talk about it or otherwise hide it from you, because it makes you uncomfortable? What sort of person would that make you?
The reason people may find the truth about depression difficult is because it's not normal enough. It is normal to many, many people, and that's exactly why I won't hide it anymore or be made to feel guilty for imposing my emotions.
When I talk about what's going on in my head, I need to be able to say what needs to be said without judgement or misunderstanding. Empathy is a wonderful thing and helps build support, but sympathy doesn't always sit so well. I need to be able to say that the black dog is descending in the same way someone talks about the onset of a frozen shoulder.
And in my mind, that's what we need to do. Talking about it can be incredibly bloody difficult and we all need support to do it more, not less. I'm not going to judge anyone who chooses not to share because we all make that personal choice and it usually comes from a history of judgement and stigmatisation, and I know all too well how that feels. But if we're going to address mental health properly then we need to change attitudes towards it, and that starts with the language we use.
eta/ once comment I've received privately suggest that being brave and not being brave aren't binary... and I'd tend to agree. Except that's the language we use, and it adds up to why I think the word brave is troubling. Comments I've received elsewhere use this exact language - that they're not brave enough to speak up - and I'd rather hear that it's not their time or not their way, or that they're not ready yet.