Although the headline on this blog post says I refuse to feel ashamed - something happened this morning which jolted a wave of shame inside me.
It was the sharing of a stupid Meme on Facebook - by someone I know would not have intended to offend. It's the same Meme I have seen shared many times - it seems to do the rounds every three or four months - and each time it makes me feel unsettled.
You see this meme states that taking antidepressant medication is "shit" - and that the real antidepressant we should be looking for is a walk in the country.
I have thought about this a lot - especially as someone who has spent the lion share of the last 15 years on some form or another of antidepressant medication.
There are times I have come off it - and all has been well for a few months. Once I managed almost a year. And then, you see, the old feelings started to creep back in. The dark thoughts. The loss of interest in anything. The self destruct button was primed and ready for pushing.
The scary thing is, each and every time those thoughts came back - they came back harder, stronger, deeper, scarier.
Until the time I found myself pounding my head with my hands to try and get them out. Banging my head off a wall, literally to stop them. Planning how I could stop them for good.
Or there was the time when I had a very detailed plan for how exactly I would end my own life - in a relatively calm/ peaceful manner. (In my job as a journalist I've attended enough inquests to know a thing or two about death - things that don't leave you. Things that add to the horror in your head.)
Each time I went on medication I told myself I would take them until i felt better and that because medication = bad, I would stop. My entire focus was on getting off the tablets as quickly as I could. Being fixed. Being better.
It wasn't about learning how to manage my illness. How to live with it. How to accept it was a part of me that didn't want to go away,
Because for the most part my depression has not been down to my circumstances. I have a good life. A career. Relative success. A husband. A house. A car. A supportive family. Good friends. I am lucky. The rational part of me knows that.
I'm one of those folks who just suffers from a chemical imbalance which gives me a predisposition to dark moods. I think a lot. I over think a WHOLE lot. I am an empathetic person - but sometimes I think I take onboard other people's feelings too much. If I see someone in pain - I feel their pain. I am a person who wants to fix things. To make things right. I am a creative who has to put herself in some very dark places to write stories that will resonate with people who have been in very dark places.
I have seen and heard a lot of things in the course of my journalism career that had deeply affected me - people whose stories I have carried with me every day. Grieving mothers sobbing over their children who aren't coming home, women shaking with fear recounting how they were beaten to within an inch of their lives, abuse victims recalling the horror they endured, injustice, illness, accidents - all things that were part of my job but which coloured my thoughts.
Of course, bad things have happened to me - and I have had to allow myself to feel those emotions to heal from the experiences but overall, I need a little help. I need some medication.
I've tried a lot of self care - supplements, exercise, complementary therapies, mindfulness, CBT etc - but the one thing that keeps me on a relatively even keel are the two tablets I pop each evening before bed.
They allow me to appreciate life. They allow me to find the strength to get out of bed when I want to hide under the duvet. They allow me to want to walk along a beach, or a country path and enjoy it - feel it, breathe it, live it.
They allow me to want to live.
But this Meme - it plays on all that. Most of all it plays on the feelings people with invisible illness have that they might just be going mad. They are weak. They are making things up. They are malingerers. They should just pull themselves together. They are broken in some way because they need help to deal with each day,.
It makes people feel ashamed to live with a condition they have little or no control over.
This morning it made me feel ashamed.
It made me feel wrong.
It made me feel not good enough.
So I had to write this blog - to put my feelings down to allow me to cope with how I was feeling. To rationalise it. To remind myself the reason I'm still here today is because I took my medication AND I took care of myself.
The two can work beautifully, miraculously together.
Stop shaming people into thinking they don't.
When I left my career of 17 years, a colleague wrote me a very lovely card. In it she said she had always admired my confidence.
I was a bit taken aback because if you were to ask me, I'd have told you that I was the least confident person on the planet.
Even this move - this pack-in-the-day-job-and-give-writing-a-go move - was not borne out of any sense of confidence that I was about to become the next big thing in writing. In fact it was fair to say that the decision to leave was the least 'me-like' thing I have ever done,
I am not confident. I am not courageous. I am not brave. Like many people I have spent a very deal of my life feeling a bit like an intruder in the room - someone who is there by fluke or as the token quiet Derry girl.
I have spent my life waiting to be found out and - at the moment as I find my way in this full time writing world, I wonder if now is the time I finally will be.
I have never felt more like the quiet, ill equipped, Derry girl in the room.
And believe me, I have made that role my own in the past. I spoke to an old acquaintance recently - someone I was at journalism college with- and we got on to the topic of how quiet and shy I was back then.
Yes, forging a career breaking news stories, interviewing politicians, policy makers and celebs - and I couldn't bring myself to open my mouth to the people I was studying with.
The former class mate told me my shyness was "painful to watch' at times - and I felt like screaming that it was more painful to endure.
It wasn't that I didn't want to fit in - to have the craic, to go out on the nights out with my classmates, to be privy to all the scandal that went on - it was just that I didn't think I belonged. They - my classmates - all were confident, talented folks with the personalities to ask the right questions.
I was the girl on the bursary who did well in all the exams but failed dramatically at the living the university life bit.
I have to say, I've carried that with me for the past 20 years. The whole way through my journalism career. I have always felt embarrassed for the girl I was - who didn't even speak up when someone was making fun of her to her face.
I was awkward and clumsy and really, if I'm honest, a bit frumpy. When I wrote Rainy Days and Tuesdays and wrote about Grace, not sure who she was and a terrible journalist because she hated answering the phone - well... let's just say there was more than a little me there.
I'm not much different when it comes to writing. Why anyone thinks being an author makes you brave, or confident is beyond me. There are few and far between authors I know - from the amateurs to the bestsellers - who aren't frequently crippled with self doubt.
If they are lucky - they can hide it. We're not supposed to say we're nervous. Or scared. Or anything less than utterly confident in our books.
We are supposed to be able to stand up now and shout about our successes. Boast our sales figures. Talk confidently about our craft.
I fail on all counts. I feel if I talk sales figures - people will think me a bore. I figure if I talk about my writing people will laugh and think "who is she kidding on with that nonsense?".
But I'm trying to change - because 20 years regretting a socially painful year at journalism college is/ was a big burden to carry.
I am trying to be proud of who I am. To speak loudly about who I am and what I do. I'm trying not to say "just women's fiction really' when people ask me what I write because that's insulting to me - and more so to my readers. I'm trying to own my story - including sharing the truth of my painful year at college (which actually normally just makes me cry when I think about it) so that I can move on and become that confident person.
The acquaintance I spoke with told me I should be living my best life now.
So I suppose I should give that a try for a change - and go forward bravely knowing that even if it has hurt along the way I've not given up.
I'm still trying.
I'm still doing.
And perhaps one day soon when I walk into a crowded room with confident people I will be able to stand up bravely and make sure they know me too. The real me. Not the token quiet girl from Derry.
Why Skirting the Issue?
For 14 years I wrote my Skirting the Issue column for the Derry Journal each Friday - I may have moved on, but I still have opinions!