Culture, Mental Illness

Depression Time Gets Real: On Abandoning Anonymity To Fight The Stigma

greg harmanThe editor called me on the phone. Didn’t want to just write me, he said. He wanted to hear from me personally that I was good with this.

“You’re really putting yourself out there,” he said. And he’s right.

This week for the first time my name will appear in several Texas newspapers not as an alt-weekly editor or environmental journalist but as a decades-long depression sufferer — one who who went to the ER and a mental-health treatment center last year desperate for help. One who participated in an experimental clinical trial earlier in this one in the search for wellness.

Of course, readers here have known all these things about me for months, but now what had previously been very distinct identities are merging: my carefully closeted illness, what has become a defining characteristic of my very being, finally assumes a proper place alongside that of the public professional.

It’s about damn time.

The fact is, if we’re ever going to end this stigma, this cursed cultural prejudice we start experiencing as children (that condemning finger waggling circles around an ear before pointing out someone acting in a unique and vulnerable way? You know what I’m talking about.) we have to live public lives inhabiting without apology all of our identities. It’s not for everyone, I know. Professional and personal repercussions are real. But for my part, I decided I could no longer tolerate hiding such a significant part of who I am — especially after the events of this past year.

Depression has been a part of me I’ve resented, lamented, and despised for the many ways it has sucked away my ability to live a full life. But it’s a part of me shared by many, many others. And they too feel alone. Sometimes deeply and frantically alone. They’re scared. Maybe even more afraid than I’ve ever felt. And they’re not getting help because of lingering, malevolent cultural prejudices against those with mental illness.

They’re being condemned to isolation and, in some cases, suicide by the ugly and cruel as much as they are by the ignorant and fearful. It’s conformist bullshit at its worst. To hell with all that.

Some will notice I’ve made a few changes here to recognize the decision to lift the veil. I gave the site a face-lift to welcome a new audience that has had the benefit of my name but only in select cases access to my full story. (It’s funny to think some of the deepest intimacies of my past six months have occurred here with people I have never met and whose names I haven’t known.)

I’ve also chosen to remove a few posts from DT to protect the privacy of family members, close friends, and one or two who injured me but don’t deserve the embarrassment of score-leveling. Those of you who recall those posts I ask to please respect that privacy. A few of my newer readers will likely wish I had removed more. To them I offer apologies. My point in posting such personal information, information that I hope does not trespass too much into the lives of others, is the hope that by relating this lived (and frequently uncomfortable) experience I will help others.

If I wound anyone by my candor here, my sincerest hope is that it’s but a flesh wound. My animating wish is that each of you feel love. That each of you — whether diagnosed or not, suffering or stable — will find a way to feel free in this life.

For DT readers who knew me previously as Random Smith, or Depression Nation, or whatever, you can read a bit about me (the environmental journalist bit) at my website Harman on Earth.

My pending column (so far, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio are slated to run it) doesn’t tell all. It overlooks or treats only passingly critical elements of the mental-health struggle. But, for me, it is a first step. And as I told that thoughtful editor, I know, whatever comes, it’s the right one.


16 thoughts on “Depression Time Gets Real: On Abandoning Anonymity To Fight The Stigma

  1. Welcome back and well done!

    I’m pretty much a ‘known depressive’ nowadays (sounds sinister, no?) just not this known depressive on this site for a variety of reasons, but like you I refuse to be ashamed of it anymore, and bollocks to anyone who’s legged it or judged me because they know now. You totally find out who your friends are once you’re ‘out’…. x

  2. ~~~~~wind*****mind~~~~~wind*****mind~~~~~wind*****mind …

    from Sing-Song by Tonzi

    Dear very wonderful guy,

    so lovable

    as you are

    It seems to me the conformist chickens* can’t hear the music. I’d like to email you links to her writing.
    *chickens reference from Sha. I’ll send that, too.

  3. I’m glad you are revealing yourself, because it shows ownership of your experience and Self-integrity.

    I already had wondered if that was your first name…but mostly because I lived with someone named Greg (just as friends as I was dating someone else, I needed a place to stay for a few months). Interacting with you felt very familiar. You even look a little like him too. Except he had brown eyes, not blue.

    Best wishes on this next leg of your journey. It sounds like a great opportunity for you. Will definitely check out your other website.

    It’s weird. I keep telling my medical and mental health professionals I feel depressed and occasionally suicidal, have a lot of anxiety, and they know I have a diagnosed thyroid condition, and nobody wants to prescribe anything for me (not even for the thyroid condition – two endocrinologists basically didn’t feel it was time to yet). I don’t really get it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they aren’t pushing pharmaceuticals…and yet, I have some really, really dark moments that I had trouble getting through (and was a danger to not only myself, but to others).

    I’m mostly stable now, but for some minor regression in the past few days but for how long? I don’t know.

    And just so you know, there were times I felt an enormous surge of love during our interactions. That was really wonderful.

    I may or may not come out and reveal my name on my blogs. I’m not really hiding because of depression, but because of what I used to do for a living – working in a crime lab. i just don’t want people my work put in jail to find me online. I keep an anonymous online presence for that reason. It’s just a precaution.

    Best of luck in everything you do, my friend.


  4. Wow! Thank you for creating yet another ripple that will ultimately lead to a tsunami tidal wave of change in ridding the stigma associated with mental illness. As we are all connected with each other, your work and courage here is so appreciated by all of us…..even if we don’t know it yet. Keep on going!

    • the first paper to run the column has a headline on it about ending the stigma of mental health. just left them a message. not sure the mentally healthy have a stigma. hopefully that gets adjusted before the paper hits the street. thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Hi Greg. Firstly, I have to admit that it was your photo that caught my attention on the newsfeed – quite the looker :) But aside from that, I had to comment and say that I have to much respect for what you’re doing. I could never go public with this, mainly because as hard as it is to tell someone you have PTSD – it’s the story behind it that is the hardest to tell. It’s something I haven’t been able to do with many people, albeit through the written word, and I just couldn’t risk the impact that one bad reaction could have on me. It’s happened before. Thank you so much for putting your story out there, for all of us who have to keep ours locked inside. If you make just one person understand this a little better then you’ll have already changed the world.

  6. You are so brave to do this, and I have so much respect for it. I wish that one day I could do it too, but so far the only time I’ve come “out” alongside my professional persona, I was treated worse instead of better. I ended up even more upset every day, while I was still in that professional environment.

    I’m young and about to have my first child and I can’t risk professional repercussions right now. But I, like you, yearn for all of my identities to be together and known. It feels wrong for my closest friends at work to know nothing about this side of me, and for me to just say vaguely “doctor visits” and “maintenance medication” when I tell them why I’m leaving early on certain days.

    What tears me up the most is when I see friends and family who also suffer, but who haven’t been able to get past the stigma that remains in their own minds, and have not gone for the treatment they need, or tried medications that would help. Thankfully over the years many of them have finally come to accept this side of themselves and are better managing their conditions now, but some still are not and it tears me up to see them suffering more than they need to.

    So thank you, for your efforts to help end the stigma. You are a beautiful human.

    • i know what you mean about observing that resistance inside others. i wish i had gotten “better” a long time ago. that i never had to get to this point where it became in issue. but i didn’t, and i did. as to coming out: please, please, please don’t do anything you are not absolutely ready to do. i don’t know how important it is, ultimately, for folks to live their struggles publicly. i suspect it’s something that only those individuals know. so no judgement. i wish you happiness.

  7. Greg (aka DT),

    You’ve taken a big step into learning to live with mental illness by coming out of the closet, so to speak. It can be very intimidating. Stating that this is who I am and this is what afflicts me goes along way to management of it.
    Feeling that vulnerability will in fact make you stronger in the long run. Mental illness is by its very nature, a distortion. The deeper one sinks into it, the severity of the distortion becomes greater and increasingly difficult to manage.
    I know from experience that I can say this is what I am living with and I make no apology for it. I no longer reject this side of self but have embraced it as just a part of who I am. And you know what? Once I accepted it I found that many of those around me accepted it as well.
    Good on you. Your journey will continue and you will learn things about your very being that you may have never known because you fought this for so long and tried to separate yourself from it.
    Having dealt with these matters, and having just gone through surgery for uterine cancer, I can say the life force in me is the strongest it has ever been and I am blessed being here.

    Continue on Greg. It only gets better.

    • that’s truly awesome what you say about the life force. that you can feel it, for starters, that its revving at a high volume for the other. i think most people don’t ever feel it. maybe they never face the sorts of traumas that require they get in touch. seems hard to believe something so critical could be so obscured. but that’s a tangent for another day.
      i’m wishing you all the best in your continued cancer recovery. and, yeah, i’m really blessed in that most of those i’ve shared with have been truly remarkable. i don’t miss the absence of the few as much as i thought i would, but sometimes, if i scratch it… well, you know.
      thank you, nancy. ;)

  8. Pingback: From Patient To Mental Health Advocate: 5 Questions With Journalist Greg Harman

  9. Happy to see you are writing again. I got busy with life, moved in with a depressed drinker, and have kind of been trying to keep my own kilter even.
    I admire your step at “coming out”.

    Without prejudice

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