Many years ago I answered an ad in the newspaper for an office traineeship. It turned out to be an ad placed by the Church of Scientology in Brisbane. Also turned out not to be an office traineeship, but that’s another story.
When I went for the ‘interview’ they had me watch a propaganda video where a bunch of people, many of them celebrities, talked about how wonderful the church was, how it had changed or even saved their lives.
One of these celebrities was actress Kirstie Alley. She spoke quite passionately about the church, and claimed she would have committed suicide if it weren’t for them.
After I’d been working at the church for a little while another girl, who we’ll call ‘Rebecca,’ started working there, too. Rebecca watched the same video, but immediately called bullshit on Kirstie Alley.
Now, Rebecca and I became friends on her first day there. I was already very tired of the hypocrisy of the place, as well as the fact that my monthly train ticked ($33) cost more than I was earning per month. Yes. You read that right.
Rebecca and I spoke of the difficulties in our lives, how we were both struggling with depression. Lots of deep and meaningful conversations within a very short time.
And yet, Rebecca refused to believe that Kirstie Alley could suffer from depression.
“She’s famous, and she’s rich. What could she possibly have to be depressed about?”
This, to me, showed a stunning lack of insight. I could understand this kind of ignorance from someone who had never experienced a mental illness, but Rebecca . . . she was in a worse place mentally than I was. How could she still not understand that mental illness does not discriminate? That race, fame, religion, gender, sexuality, wealth, and status do not protect you?
And while this was the first glaring example of lack of insight and understanding I encountered, it definitely was not the last.
One day during a visit to my grandparents. Grandma mentioned to me that Mum had had a small breakdown only days before.
My father had had a go at Mum about the state of the house. It was messy and dirty. Mum broke down and said she was deeply depressed, and the housework was just too overwhelming for her at that time. She needed help.
A couple of weeks later it was my birthday, so Mum and Dad came to visit. I was mired in a severe case of post-natal depression at the time (which eventually developed into psychosis, so yeah, it was bad.)
Housework had pretty much gone out the window for me, too, just has it had for Mum. But, knowing I was going to have visitors, I did my best to make the house look presentable.
Mum and Dad came and we had what I thought was a pleasant visit.
The next day I got an email from my mother telling me the house was a disgrace and I should be ashamed. She reminded me that all through my own childhood she’d managed to maintain a clean house, blah blah blah.
I had three panic attacks just reading the email.
I could not believe my eyes. This, from my own mother, from the woman who was at that exact same time having the exact same difficulty, and who’d broken down while explaining it to my Dad.
What the actual fuck?
I was freaking out. I wound up ringing Lifeline so I could speak to someone who could calm me down. I don’t know if the man I spoke to could even understand half of what I was saying at the beginning, I was so emotional, but he did a wonderful job of bringing me back down and helping me see things more clearly.
Later that day I emailed Mum back, repeating what Grandma had told me about her situation, and I questioned how Mum could have a go at me for the exact same thing she was struggling with herself.
Her reply the following day was to basically say, “I knew you’d get all defensive. Just get your shit together.”
More panic attacks.
I couldn’t believe back then, and frankly I still can’t now, how a woman who has struggled with mental health issues her entire life could show such a lack of compassion and understanding for another woman in the exact same circumstance, let alone her own daughter.
As I’m writing this, I’m wondering if it was one of those instances where you see an aspect of yourself that you don’t like in someone else and you take your anger and self-loathing out on that other person instead of yourself . . .
Either way, this wasn’t the only time my mother behaved this way. I have seen it time and again, and it continues to upset and confound me.
Personally, if I know someone is struggling, I always make allowances for them. After all, I know what it feels like to suffer through depression and anxiety and panic, how hard just being awake can be some days. I’ve been suicidal more than once. I’ve been homicidal, too. I’ve been all kinds of fucked up. So I’m happy to cut fellow sufferers some slack.
I’m also pretty damned good at figuring out when someone is a fellow sufferer. A few minutes into our first conversation I can tell. My soul recognises something in theirs; similar scars, a kindred spirit.
As well, I know all too well what it’s like to have the people around you not believe you’re really sick. It’s fucking heartbreaking. Not only are you struggling to survive, but the very people who are supposed to be your life raft stand by and call you a liar, even as you sink beneath the waves.
What’s the point of all of this?
I am asking you to show the compassion and understanding and respect that you ask others to show you. If you someone who is struggling, give them a hug, a kind word, hang out with them if you can. Do something, anything, that you know has even a chance of helping them.
And above all, BELIEVE them.
Being believed, having people accept you and your reality, is one of the greatest gives you will ever receive. Give that gift to someone else. You might just save a life.
Take care of you xox