He’s a normal looking kid. He’s seventeen, he has height. His hair is a mop of teenagerish goodness, it looks unkempt but it’s actually as kempt as his vanity will allow. He comes with a laptop bag and headphones. Scuffed shoes, a little bit of acne, there’s a hole in one of the elbows of his school jumper. He’s looks regulation.
It’s a warm day and the car is hot, and I tell him he’s coming in with me. Yes, he’s old enough to crack a window, or even get out of the car if he get’s too hot, but I’m his mum and motherly things come out of my mouth unbidden.
The look of horror, the sound he makes at the idea of coming with me is a wrenching reminder.
‘What if I see somebody I know?’ he says.
That’s right. I’d forgotten. My eldest has Social Anxiety. He looks like he can handle anything but it’s no mean feat for my kid to be out of the house. He worries about his shoelaces, about shopkeepers and bus drivers, about worry itself. He gets his friends to buy his drinks, ‘Here’ he hands them the money, ‘get mine, too.’
I used to do that. Manufacture ways of not speaking to people.
I park in the shade and wind my window all the way down, ‘I won’t be long.’
‘Thanks, Mum. Love you, Mum.’
‘Love you too, Babe.’
Anxiety doesn’t come with spots or a limp.
Yesterday I read that there’d been a study by Beyond Blue and one in five Australians don’t believe in anxiety (probably the same one in five believe in God, but let’s not go there).
Recently I was working four jobs, I dropped it back to three, and then last week back to two. My mental health was suffering. I’d spent an inordinate amount of time hanging shit on myself about how I wasn’t coping. I blamed myself for my depression. People work, I’d say to myself, normal people work. Get on with it, loser.
Now, after paying attention to myself, and giving depression the space it needs, I can see how resilient I’d been. Four brand new jobs in six months. Doing well at all of them. Making the occasional ‘new job’ mistake but mostly holding my own. I’d learned new systems, made new friends, even cracked those frightening Grade One kids in my creative writing class.
I would have look tired, I always look tired, but I would also have looked capable, damn capable. I talked and played a bloody good game. I’d impressed my new bosses with my initiative, my willingness to learn, my get up and go.
Then I’d get home and go to bed.
Nobody knew I had depression. Nobody would have known that day by day I could feel myself sliding deeper and darker into the mire.
Depression doesn’t have lumps, or bumps, no blood pours out of your eyes.
Mental illnesses are often invisible. Peer into the petri dish and see nothing.
It’s no wonder people don’t believe in mental illness, can’t take it seriously, when most of us are doing our daily thing, being what we can for our families and friends, and bringing it home in the workplace.
I reckon we should wear T-shirts.
It’s commendable to have a mental illness and keep going and it’s commendable to have a mental illness and know when to rest. It’s commendable to try for a new day when you have a mental illness. Good on us.
I’d wear a T-shirt.
I’m proud of me for managing as long as I did. And I’m proud that I stopped when I finally read the twelve foot high writing on the wall.
And I’m damn proud of my eldest. One foot in front of the other, he keeps going. He’s even decided to go to the Year Twelve Formal. This from a kid who can’t take a bus on his own. My child is a legend and he deserves a medal. Or at least a T-shirt.
Living with a mental illness is no invisible picnic, it’s boring and it’s gross, but it’s educational if you’re up to it. I understand that people might have difficulty believing in things they can’t see and haven’t felt, in things they think they’ve had no experience with. I bet if people dug deeper they’d find they’d had plenty of experience of people with anxiety or depression.
* Living with Depression/Living with Anxiety T-shirts will be made available soon. In sizes XXXS through to XXXL because one size does not fit all.