So this weird ridiculous thing happened the other day, and it’s bringing up some weird feelings about mental illness and shame.
We had this household accident last night: one of our doors fell off its hinges. (One of the hinges snapped in two, actually, which pulled the other hinge clean out of the frame.) Of course it happened at ten o’clock at night; of course it was a door to a room that isn’t catproofed, a room that Comet absolutely can’t be allowed into, a room that we really really need a door to. So we had to frantically wrestle the door into a temporary safe place; wrangle the cats into another room and shut them in; scour the Internet to find an emergency handyperson who would come out to the house at that hour… and call Kaiser to look up my medical records and find out when I last had a tetanus shot.
See, in the course of the door-wrangling, I got these two giant raggedy gouges on my inner forearm. I’ve never before seen what attaches a door to a door frame: apparently, it’s huge pointy skewers approximately the size of railroad spikes, firmly bolstered with rust dating back to 1895, and most likely lubricated with Clostridium tetani. So in the middle of freaking out about the door and the cats and the un-catproofed room and the the handyperson, I also got to freak out about the giant gouges on my wrist, and whether I’d have to somehow find time the next day to get a tetanus shot.
All is now well. Door is fixed; cats are fine; last tetanus shot was two years ago. Crisis averted. One of those incidents that seems impossibly unmanageable and overwhelming at the time, and that will almost certainly make for a funny story later, with details exaggerated and embroidered to make it funnier.
Except that when I was getting dressed this morning to go give a talk, I realized that I was completely self-conscious about the gouges on my wrist.
I started worrying that, since I’ve been blogging about my depression, people might see these two big raggedy red cuts on my wrist, and think that I’d tried to kill myself. I actually chose my outfit for the day, very specifically, to cover the wounds. I didn’t want to have that conversation with a bunch of strangers, or indeed with people I know. I didn’t want to have to tell the story of the door and the hinges and the giant skewers, over and over and over again. I was imagining myself getting defensive and over-explaining… and in the process of getting defensive and over-explaining, making people even more concerned and suspicious… which would make me get even more defensive and over-explainy, thus making them even more suspicious. It got to the point where I was almost gaslighting myself: imagining other people thinking, “Oh, sure, you cut yourself on a broken door hinge, that’s a likely story,” and feeling embarrassed at myself for concocting such a ridiculous cover story, a story that’s only just barely redeemed by being true.
All of which is absurd. The gouges don’t even look like self-inflicted cuts. They look exactly like accidental gouges acquired in a wrestling match with a heavy door that was wielding giant, rusty, tetanus-infected railroad spikes.
So why was I so freaked out?
It’s weird. I have people in my life who have been suicidal, and I don’t think they have anything to be ashamed of. Any more than I think people with diabetes who’ve lost a toe have anything to be ashamed of. But I realized that I do have this fear, this shame, about people thinking that I might be suicidal. And I realized that I do still have this shame about my depression. Not anyone else’s depression: just my own. And this shame sometimes manifests itself as an anxiety about people thinking that I’m more depressed than I am. I’m fine with the world knowing that I’m depressed, that I’m on anti-depressants and in therapy, that the depression sometimes interferes with my ability to work and socialize and otherwide function, that right now I have to make managing my mental health close to my top priority. I’m not fine with the world thinking that I tried to slash my wrists.
And yet, at the same time, I also have anxiety about people thinking that I’m less depressed than I really am: an anxiety about people thinking that I’m malingering, using the depression as an excuse to avoid responsibility. I bloody well want people to understand that I’m exactly as depressed as I really am, at any given moment — no more, and no less.
Not sure where I’m going with this. I guess I’m throwing this out to the rest of the class, to anyone who currently has or has ever had mental illness: Have you ever dealt with stuff like this? Have you ever worried that entirely normal life events — or, indeed, freakishly weird life events that are pretty much just random — would be interepreted as a symptom of your illness, a sign of trouble? Have you ever worried that an explanation of what really happened would be interpreted as a cover story? And in general, do you get self-conscious or anxious or micro-managing about how you present your mental illness to the people in your life?
And if so… how do you deal with it?