Is disclosing my mental illness ‘fair’?
I wonder sometimes how my life would change if my depression was common knowledge. Would it be easier, as people would understand me more? Harder, because people would see me differently? No different, because the two cancel each other out?
I recently had cause to send an email to an organisation I admire, expressing strong disappointment about a particular event that occurred. This email sparked a chain reaction that was, to be honest, almost entirely unexpected and not a little unsettling. One of these reactions was a text message that flirted a little too much with the ad hominem fallacy to be entirely professional, and it affected me quite substantially.
[I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t — for what I hope are obvious reasons — give more background information to the inspiration for this post than I have. I needed to include the context, but didn’t want to reveal anything that don’t directly concern the thoughts I wanted to explore.]
The text message in question was patronising, ridiculing, and blameful (which despite the red squiggly line I’m looking at, Google reliably informs me is a word) on quite a personal level. It was these things in a way that I had very carefully tried to ensure my initial email was not. Such a scathing response, to someone who is wired with a hair trigger for feelings of self-loathing and low self-worth, was a volitile mix. I spent a large portion of last night spiralling down into an all-familiar dark pit.
Of course, the person who sent the text message had (I sincerely hope) absolutely no idea what the severity of my reaction would have been. They don’t know that I suffer from major depressive disorder — as in fact very few people do.
But how would that interaction have changed if more people knew? And, perhaps a more interesting question, would it be fair for me to disclose this?
How would the interaction have changed?
I know the person who sent the text outside of the context of the email, and I liked to think that we got on well enough. I’m confident, therefore, in saying that this person is not naturally malicious and — if they knew the extent of the mental damage that they caused with the text — I would like to think that they would show remorse.
By extension of this train of thought then, I would equally like to think that — armed with foreknowledge — they would have toned down their response.
Is this fair?
This, for me, is the more interesting question.
We’ve established that the individual is not malicious. Therefore I have obviously said something (or, perhaps, many things) in my initial email that was out of order. The fact that I’ve reread my email so many times since this exchange that I’ve committed it to memory (we do love to obsess over our mistakes…), and yet still can’t point at any part of that message that would make the response proportional, does not mean that I didn’t cross a line.
So until I have the chance to speak to this person and clarify this, I am forced to assume that I was — at least in part — deserving of such a response.
Following that train of thought, and remembering that if this individual knew that their text message would cause me so such distress that they might not have sent it, would it be fair of me to divulge my depression? After all, having a mental illness does not grant me a ‘get out jail free’ card. It does not give me the right to shy away from complaints about my person simply because I am not mentally strong enough to cope well with them.
The question of whether it is fair to others to reveal how fragile I am is something I think a lot about. I can’t shake the thought that doing so would be selfish. The presupposition here is that the retorts I am scared of depriving other people of are all inherently valid. I’ve already accepted, for example, that the text message I received was not out of line. I don’t know if this is a flaw in my thinking, a product of a mind predisposed to hate itself. The text message could be read by someone of sound mental presence and they might find it to be a disproportional response. In which case, my depression has nothing to do with it, and that this person might scale back their response as a result of knowing my condition would be irrelevant.
Or, the text message was entirely justified, and my flawed thinking is instead shielding from the fault in my email— secure with the knowledge that I am a bad person, and not concerning itself in this instance with the formality of why. If this is the case, then perhaps denying my accuser the right to accuse would be a miscarriage of justice. Playing the depression card would be unjust, and would create an unfair feeling of remorse in someone who actually has the moral high ground.
I don’t really have an answer to any of the above. It is interesting though, there is a way of finding out which of those two scenarios is the right one. That would involved telling others though. Something, it seems, I’m still not ready to do.