It's the only illness where you get - absolutely free with the package - a real sense of shame. I've heard people say, "I know people with real diseases, show me lumps show me X-Rays", and of course you can't so you begin to feel bombarded with self-disgust thinking," I'm not being carpet-bombed, I'm not living in a Township, how dare I, who has everything, be depressed?" Now you're bludgeoned with abusive inner voices but not just one voice, about 100,000 voices. If the Devil had Tourette's that's what it would sound like.
It's an unfortunate word, 'depression', because the illness has nothing to do with feeling sad, sadness is on the human palette. Depression is a whole other beast. It's when your old personality has left town and been replaced by a block of cement with black tar oozing through your veins and mind. This is when you can't decide whether to get a manicure or jump off a cliff. It's all the same. When I was institutionalised I sat on a chair unable to move for three months, frozen in fear. To take a shower was inconceivable. What made it tolerable was while I was inside, I found my tribe - my people. They understood and unlike those who don't suffer, never get bored of you asking if it will ever go away? They can talk medication all hours, day and night; heaven to my ears.
When you have a mental illness you get a double whammy, your brain has gone down and you don't have another brain to make an assessment. If you had a spare brain it could tell you but you don't. I had to ask a friend if I looked insane to her and she said, "Yes". Friends, family and co-workers ask me what should they say if they know someone or are related to someone with depression, I tell them all they can do is love them, don't try to cure them, you can't. And if they refuse to see a professional there's nothing you can do. The worst thing is to say to them, "Perk up." Perk up, oh, I didn't think of that.
Those of us who 'have it', we need to somehow come out of our isolation and find each other. Alcoholics Anonymous have a system where you can call a 'buddy' when you feel you want a drink and they'll talk you down. AA has meeting places on every block - more than there are Starbucks. How did they organise these get-togethers when these people have a drink problem? The gays turned it around during my lifetime, now they're everywhere: politicians, CEOs, Generals, Surgeons, hairdressers... Let's go find where they keep their old rainbow banners, high-heels and tutus that they wore during their parades, put them on and march to the White House with pitch forks screaming, 'WE ARE MENTALLY ILL, WE ARE THE ONE IN FOUR AND PROUD. CHANGE THE LAWS. WE ARE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.' In the UK if you ever write on your CV that you suffer from a mental disorder, I wish you good luck ever landing a job. If you run a company and you've taken off more than six months because of a mental problem, you can be fired. This discrimination should be against the law, just as it is with someone physically disabled. I'll say it again - mental illness is a physical illness. You wouldn't consider going up to someone suffering from Alzheimers to yell, "Come on, get with it, you remember where you left your keys?" Let us shout it from the rooftops until everyone gets the message; depression has and nothing to do with having a bad day or being sad, it's a killer if not taken seriously.