The 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.