I wrote this blog on September 11, 2013, a day when it was okay to be sad. It was the anniversary of a horrific event in history, something that impacted the lives of everyone reading this now. Yesterday you were not judged for having outbursts of crying, or openly expressing anguish, grief, loss, anger or bewilderment. Yesterday, if you exhibited any of these normal human emotions, you’d have been hugged and supported with understanding and compassion. There was no stigma attached to feeling depressed and hopeless while walking the streets with a lost look on your face. It was okay to be you without the burden of being judged. There are legitimate reasons, excuses and rationale for feeling blue — as long as you realize that your free pass for your public display of despair expired after 24 hours — because today it is no longer acceptable.
Every year on 9/11, society allows us one day to be re-traumatized, to relive our personal experiences and to display our raw feelings because it makes sense to be sad. People won’t think less of you or view you as weak. We can shake our collective heads in unison to share our sorrow and bafflement on the anniversary of a day so shockingly life changing.
As someone who lives with chronic depression and anxiety, the double standards for when it’s okay to not be okay are unwarranted. On plain old regular days, when you already have an underlying depression and just maybe you’re going through a tough time on top of that, it’s not cool to weep in public. For people who don’t understand what it’s like not having the ability to just snap out of it, some think it’s fine to call you pathetic, selfish, crazy, lazy and fragile. Of course being painfully labeled does not help in any way. It only reinforces the stigma attached to mental illness. The irony is everyone I know who lives with a chemical imbalance is the opposite of those accusations. We are the strong ones who have to suck it up, put on a benign face, and keep it together to avoid the shame placed upon us. It takes an enormous amount of effort to pretend everything is dandy on a daily basis.
Throughout this journey I began a few years ago, to bust through the misconceptions of what life with a chronic, yet invisible, illness is like, I realized that there are thousands of people who hide behind the dark curtain forced on us by society.
Even though I am dedicated to changing the way people with a mental illness are treated and perceived, I still have trepidation when one of my blogs goes live, revealing yet another layer of myself — my thoughts, fears and insecurities laid bare for anyone who has internet access.
Yet it’s crucial to keep the conversation going so that it doesn’t remain taboo to talk about illnesses such as depression, general anxiety disorder, PTSD, bi-polar and schizophrenia.
Today went back to normal. All of the sadness and angst we were allowed to bring to the surface yesterday goes back into the closet, because today it’s not okay to show that side of yourself. In a world without stigma, we wouldn’t have to worry about being sad without a tangible reason, without it making sense to everyone. An explanation would not have to be made up on the fly. We wouldn’t have to keep our symptoms locked away making the illness that much more difficult. I wish it felt okay to not be okay, on any given day.
Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing. She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC. A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya. Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.