I got the privilege to interview a very close friend of mine. Sometimes you meet someone and you just click; as if your own life story was on their bookshelf and they understand you. That’s what Coral has been to me. Many thanks to her for this opportunity…
How would you describe your association with mental health?
When you grow up poor mental health is viewed as a luxury – when your family is struggling to meet basic human needs mental health becomes an ailment for the privileged and wealthy. Not only growing up poor but also Catholic, mental health is not only seen as a ‘luxury’ but shameful and something viewed as a ‘dirty’ family secret. Since I can recall I have experienced this internal battle between my own depression and the negative perception of mental health implemented on me as a child. Now in my mid 20’s with beliefs completely contradictory to those I was raised in, I still find a piece of myself interpreting my depression as a shameful burden to burry within which is completely contradictory to my education.
Have you ever tried to attribute your thoughts and feelings to reasons other than mental health issues? If so, why?
Most definitely! I think a woman’s experience with depression is much different than a man’s – primarily because of the gender stereotypes and characteristics society identifies as ‘female’. Women are inflicted with this intense pressure to always appear cheerful and welcoming, forever donning the perfect smile. A woman experiencing depression will obviously not abide by those guidelines so we are not only carrying the burden of our mental health, in my case depression, but we are carrying society’s standards as well. Prior to accepting my depression I would attribute my ‘episodes’ (as described by my family) as being overly exhausted or not eating enough or healthy enough or being ‘moody’ all of which I have come to learn are symptoms of depression. I think I would create these excuses because of the shame associated with mental health and because people expect certain behavior and characteristics from not only women but from Coral (me!).
How long have you dealt with issues of mental health, whether yourself or others?
I honestly believe I have been experiencing depression since my preteen years but due to the lack of conversation within my family I didn’t have the proper vocabulary to identify what I was experiencing. Now in my adult life I have found solace with my sister who also experiences depression.
What are some things people have said to you that helped you, and what were some things that were not helpful at all?
The two women closest to me, with the exception of my mother who doesn’t view mental health the same way as I do, have undoubtedly helped me. Their help isn’t from the things they say but more so the unwavering support and understanding. When I am experiencing depression I don’t need uplifting words – the power of having women in my life that understand what I am experiencing is invaluable.
“You have the power to get yourself out of your funk”
“You’re choosing to be like this, snap out of it”
“You just want an excuse to be down”
Those are some things I’ve been told that obviously do not help when you’re depressed and are said by people ignorant to mental health.
What would you like to say to your younger self if you had the chance?
Pull the power you have deeply stored within your being – and remember there is an essence to being a woman that cannot be snuffed, especially a woman with experiences both good and bad. You got this bitch.