“Talk to someone …”
“Open up …”
That’s something you hear a lot when you are living with mental illness. Well, I can only speak for my own battles with depression, & that’s something that echoes over & over again in my head. I think sometimes people just say it without thinking much about what that entails. I guess it’s kind of like being a ‘The Standard’ writer at a Skepta concert & the DJ keeps “restarting the songs” & you slope home unsatisfied. It’s funny how I’ve only just come to terms with calling my depression what it really is, a mental illness. It sounds so serious & sinister. I always assume that people will hear “mentally ill” & think I’m someone that eats newspaper and likes to dress up like the teapot he believes he is. “I’m not like other mentally ill people, I have depression, and it’s not the same. I’m not crazy like they are” It’s that ignorant train of thought that makes it so hard for people to open up. I shouldn’t think that way but it’s hard to shake a lifetime of stigma.
All through filming my documentary about mental health in the black community & doing numerous interviews around it, I could never embrace the term. Looking at myself & how hard it is for me to take that on board, it’s helped me to understand why a lot of people, especially people like me, struggle to open up about it. And by people like me I mean young men, black men mostly. Labels can be very scary. It’s like landing yourself on the sex offender’s register, everyone instantly assumes you’re a child molester; no one ever stops to think, “He might just have been caught pissing outside”. We’ll get back to that at some point, I have the attention span of a guinea pig on acid, I’m so easily distracted & I can go off on a tangent in the middle of trying to make a point so please bare with me.
A lot of men suffer from mental illness & they struggle not because they don’t want to open up, but because they don’t know how. People constantly tell you to “open up” & “talk” but they don’t understand that just like anything else you’ve never done before, it’s HARD. Of course I’m not going to be good at something I have minimum to no experience in. A lot of us genuinely do want to open up & talk but we are delving into new territories & it takes time. Un-learning (if that’s not a word, it is now) a whole lifetime of society telling you to ‘get on with it & keep it to yourself like a real man’ is not an easy feat. I don’t even think some people know what they’re saying when they tell you to open up about things you’ve probably not even come to terms with yourself, or that they’re there if you need to talk, it’s just something that they’ve heard so many times & it has become the go to response. It’s what you’re supposed to say when you think someone is going through something. What next? Are you really ready for me to offload my problems on to you?
The biggest barrier for me when it comes to opening up has always been the potential pity that is not very far behind. I’m not telling you my problems because I want sympathy, sometimes I don’t even want your help, I just want someone to listen as I get it off my chest. A little advice would be nice though. Opening up to people when you are having financial problems is the worst because they start thinking you are about to pull out an M Night Shyamalan level sob story and ask them for money. All they see in front of them is one of Fagin’s boys with his hand out. Man fi low that rude boy, I just want someone to talk to. You said I could talk to you about anything right?
It’s hard for everybody; it’s like the blind leading the blind. On one side you have a group of people struggling to open up and the other group has no idea how to deal with it when they eventually do. You have a bunch of people trying to convince you to open up and talk about your problems with no clue on how to handle it when you do.
I have no idea what the answer is, but I’m glad that the conversation about mental health has been opened and we are slowly taking things more seriously. Education is important. The more you know, the easier it is to understand why those around you are the way they are. Don’t be too quick to give up on someone that doesn’t seem like they want to open up, be patient and give them some time to figure out how.