Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Smile and the world smiles with you . . .

. . . cry and you cry alone."

That was a popular refrain in my house, growing up, and it persists to this day, especially in English-speaking countries where people Do Not Talk about what's really going on with them. It's from a poem called "Solitude" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850 - 1919), and that saying has done society a great disservice. Many interpret talking about personal things as "airing dirty laundry in public," yet that's only if it's real people talking about real things. It may not apply to gossipy tabloids, reality TV shows, or TMZ. 

Image: frontriver/Flickr
At the other end of the spectrum is oversharing, something that, if you count Facebook users as a representative population, over half of people don't like. But oversharing can consist of anything from blurting out relationship status changes to the status of the baby's diaper.

The line between what should be kept private and what needs to be talked about, despite some discomfort, is imprecise. In the Jewish community, where there is already a concern about how we're perceived by other communities, the list of things that we Do Not Talk about is long and the stigma is real. But it is slowly changing.

The fact is that as much as 25% of the population, 1 in every 4, will experience a serious mental illness. In Israel, 14% of men, 25% of women, and even 3-5% of teens suffer from depression alone. And many, arguably a majority, don't seek help.

Talking about depression using statistics and quoted sources is all fine and well, but it's removed, sanitized, impersonal. It's one thing to say, statistically, one person in every family of four will experience a mental illness. It's quite another to read about someone's actual experience, the downs that evade description and the successes, both big (I wrote a book!) and little (I took a shower!). Sometimes those little successes are just as meaningful as the big ones.

Today I had a few little successes: attended a webinar, made some website updates, did some more tax-related work, and stood in a hot shower for twenty minutes, feeling for the first time in more than two weeks like I might relax just a bit. Maybe.

Tomorrow I'm supposed to be out in the world, and right now that is very, very frightening. It's hard to feel competent, able, proficient. It's hard to find the strength and the momentum to keep going. So tonight I will try to rest, and tomorrow, I hope—I pray—it will be better. 
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