Since this is my story, I will start with my name. You may have heard of me before. My name is Psychiatry. Yes, that Psychiatry. Although I admit I cannot read your mind, I can already see my tattered reputation precedes me.
I know I look weary. Ever since I was born I have struggled. First for recognition, then for acceptance, next for importance and throughout for funding (but this is neither the time nor the page to vent frustrations about governmental policy). I know I look weary, you would too had you spent years carrying the burden of stigma on your shoulders. Do you know how much shame weighs in metric units or otherwise? Jung said shame is a "soul eating emotion", so imagine the irony that it weighs heavier with every passing year. These knees, buckling, drawing ever closer to the ground have begun writing their eulogy before the curtain falls.
Many, myself included, see me as the illegitimate daughter of Medicine. You are probably familiar with my other sisters, who deal with matters of the heart, cancer, bones to name just a few. They invoke a sense of romanticism, admiration and nobility to their cause. The archetypal white-coat (the doctor) pitted in a battle against the enemy (the disease) to rescue the captive (the patient).
Unfortunately not all captives are created equal. Often in my case, the captive is accused for the actions of the disease and put to trial at the mercy of an (at the risk of sounding politically incorrect) ignorant jury, guilty of harbouring their own prejudices. The suffering of misunderstood patients trivialised by the failure to discuss misunderstood diseases has left certain taboos unchanged. It is much harder to wage a war against an enemy we know little about. It is worse still if we refuse to acknowledge its existence.
If ever a biography of Medicine were to be written, I fear my story would not find its way to the page. Perhaps it is considered too dark, too embarrassing, or maybe it touches on issues that make us uneasy and morally queasy. I fear my story will be hidden in the footnotes, with just enough room for my small footprints written in even smaller print.
Art can hold a mirror to society and then proceed to paint the ugly reflections. "Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" No this is not a reference to colour (that is another uncomfortable conversation to have for another day) but about what is just.
My people are afflicted with maladies of the mind that steal from them a large part of what it means to be human. Their freedom of thought withered away leaving their freedom for choice suspended in a cognitive limbo. The notions of capacity, autonomy and dignity may be the norm for you, but in my country they are valued at a higher price. Such is the exchange rate between our respective currencies.
The compassion you have for those in sickness, is it open and effortless? Unconditional and endless? Compassion you would proudly display on your Twitter feed? Does it differ to the one you feel towards an addict? Or is this brand of compassion slightly cheaper to accompany the second hand sympathies extended from a distance? Not all compassion is created equal.
The label of primitive has stuck with me, one I cannot completely peel off. Today where Technology is the pervasive king, I am seen as an analogue pauper in a digital age. We are like strangers on a train, uneasy after finding ourselves alone in the same cabin. Awkward silences followed by awkward sounds of overlapping sentences. A marriage founded on a prenuptial agreement rather than love at first byte. This has led people to wonder, if sadness does not show up on a blood test, then is depression even real?
Social media is full of people sharing their surgical scars, wounds both physical and visible, as a symbol of graduation from their triumph over sickness. But not all scars are created equal - just ask those who always wear full sleeved tops even during the rarest of British summer days. The sleeves hide their scars and stories alike.
Our time is up and we must part ways. You now know my name and a little more. I hope I have earned some appreciation, however reluctant, of the turmoil my people find themselves in. Their stories deserve to be heard far and wide, so we can tell the future which way it should turn to arrive at a tomorrow where only one brand of compassion exists.