I have, quite literally, written the book on depression. Well, to be more accurate it's "a" book. Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression With the Crab of Hate was published earlier this year and is a very personal tale of my own struggle with my head. In the book I talk about how I've become something of a poster girl for mental health, which is a bit unexpected. I'd always hoped to become a poster girl of some sort but thought it might have been for my amazing muscles or my lovely hair. "That's that mental comedian" people say, which is fine. It's just another label, and society loves them. A journalist once asked me "Is it difficult being a female Scottish lesbian comedian?" I suggested it would be more difficult being a male Scottish lesbian comedian. They've never asked me for an interview again.
It's slightly strange when I think of it now, but while I was writing my story down I sort of forgot that anyone would ever read it. Some of the events that I describe I've never talked about before, and cathartic as the process was, the moment I finished the book, I sent the manuscript off to my publisher and carried on as if nothing had happened. It was only as the publication date approached that I began to panic.
The idea for the book had originated from an episode of my Radio 4 series Calman Is Convicted that focussed on depression. The response that I received when it was broadcast was overwhelming and had given me some confidence that there was an audience for the book and one that would read it with a critical but sympathetic eye. But what if I was wrong? I was trying to defeat the stigma of mental health issues by being honest, but what if the stigma of mental health issues meant that I was treated differently?
Mostly the letters, emails and tweets that I've received have been positive and the message is clear. That reading about someone else's struggle with their depression makes people feel less isolated, less alone and more positive about getting through the dark days. Despite this I still worry about how I'll be perceived now I've "come out". I still have concerns that my honesty was an unwise position to take. But then I remember how alone I felt during my teenage years. The times when I felt so without an anchor that I tried to take my own life and ended up in an adolescent psychiatric ward, truly the most terrifying time in my life. But I know, without any doubts, that I never want anyone to feel like that. I'm a 41-year-old depressive who has learned to live with, and embrace, the dark side of my nature. The most important part of conquering my mental health problems has been to talk about how I feel, and keep talking. We need to start being honest, all of us, with our friends, family and in the workplace. To stop being frightened about who we are and how we feel.
I'm trying to start an organisation called 'Depressives Without Borders' so we can all be maudlin together and without fear. The criteria for joining is simple - have you ever been depressed, whatever your definition of that term is. Join us. The Christmas parties will be amazing.
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