The Invisible Mask

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly in my previous posts, I have several psychological disorders lurking somewhere inside my brain. Social anxiety being the simplest of them all, and severe depression the most difficult challenge I have to endure every single day. I’ve written on the challenges faced by the depressed, yet there is a related topic of similar importance that I have not yet sufficiently touched. That is, the hurdles that must be overcome by each person attempting to reach the psychological treatments they need.

When we’re struck ill by a cold, a fever, or what have you, a visit to the local diagnostician is nothing out of the ordinary. Rather, it is to be expected from those who understand well enough the uses of modern medicine. However, how would one be treated should he say that he is afflicted by “fear,” “the judging eyes of people,” or “emptiness?” Why, such statements would sound positively ridiculous. How could anyone be hurt by things that cannot even brush a patch of dust from our collars? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” remember? But “words” do break bones, unfortunately so.

It does not always take a virus, a bacteria, or broken bones to bring someone to their knees. At times, it is enough for one to be treated so hurtfully by his peers, or to fall under unbearable enough circumstances, to leave his mind crippled. I am of course speaking of the illnesses psychologists and psychiatrists devote their entire careers trying to understand or even cure. These sicknesses exist, and they can be as damaging as losing one’s limb, as they limit their sufferers from performing as much as they should have been able to.

In the worst of cases, such as the ones observed in those suffering from depression, death lurks around every corner. When nothing in your world matters anymore, when there is a future no longer, why should one go on with his life? Why shouldn’t he just end it? That is a question that pops up again and again and again in the minds of the severely depressed (I can personally attest to this). And how does society—at least the society of Indonesia—try to right these wrongs? By being inadequate.

We have PSAs for HIV, cancer, diabetes, et cetera patients. Such advertisements help the general populace accept and understand the incredibly piercing pains inflicted upon these unlucky individuals by biology. Yet I have never, for the life of me, heard a radio or television or even a brochure illuminate on psychological disorders. The only ones being broadcast are ones with some amount of biological roots: i.e. Downs Syndrome, Autism, and their kinds. Do not get me wrong, these are horrendous products of nature and our genes, yet focusing a population’s concerns entirely on them does not seem to be the right thing to do.

For one, it distracts many caretakers from the psychological problems under him. I have repeatedly heard my ill friends report that their parents, friends, aunts, etc. do not believe that what they are going through is anything to worry about; that it is just a phase, one that’ll pass away given enough time. Sadly such things do not fade away so easily, and most times require the help of medically-trained professionals. Yet the problem doesn’t stop with a visit to the shrink to the local hospital. In some ways, it could be seen as being intensified by the peoples in said place of healing.

Have you ever had the unpleasant experience of visiting a psychiatrist in a hospital? I sure hope not. Having visited several in a few hospitals, I can perhaps give some insight to how it goes around here. The registration clerk would try to hide his surprise, other patients would look up when the shrink’s assistant yell out “Mr. Kenneth Sahuleka to the attending psychiatrist” over the loud speakers, and then there’s the collecting of your prescriptions.

I once had to grab my pills over the counter, so to speak. I was in a place far away from the usual clinics and hospitals that handed me out my meds. However, my supplies were running short, and circumstances dictated that I would not be able to visit any of these places soon enough. Hence, I went to several apothecaries, trying to have them hand me the medicine I desperately needed. With a legitimate prescription notice, I was turned down at no less than four establishments. Their clerks wouldn’t even look at me when I handed them the piece of paper. They’d simply mumble “we don’t sell those around here.” As if “those” were narcotics of some kind, and that I was a brash thrill-seeker looking for some kicks. I have taken drugs, the illegal kind, and I find myself unable to enjoy or support them. I am most definitely not a junkie. Marijuana just makes me vomit.

Eventually, I found a place that would recognize the legitimacy of my prescription, but not without excessive, unnecessary effort on my part. I had to call my psychiatrist, hand the clerk my cellphone, wait for ten or so minutes until they settled the issue, then finally have the man ask me “you could get the same effects from cheaper stuff, you know?” No, I did not know, and I did not care to find out. I was there to purchase some anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I wasn’t looking for whatever “effects” he had in mind. My point is, I despise having to face being treated like a drug-addict whenever I trade-in my prescription. The heaviest vice I have are cigarettes and alcohol, nothing more—not recommended, but certainly nothing to cause a fuss over.

Such is the blockade facing the mentally-ill, specifically in Indonesia. People will treat you as if you are a freak of nature, as if—as they see it—your soul is damaged or any other rationalization they have in mind. Your pathology is unrecognized, and is perceived as merely another anomaly in this already strange world. Nothing serious about it, something that shouldn’t be a problem had we been born or conditioned to be stronger. Or been birthed as someone “normal.”

How would the psychologically-ill respond in return? Lash out? Argue that what they are going through should be taken seriously, and not as a joke or an oddity? No, we stay silent. We hide behind facades of “I’m just feeling a bit down today,” “I feel nervous in crowds,” or my personal favorite, “I had a bad day, that’s all.” Why say these meaningless utterances when we know full-well that we need whatever help we can get? Because of the stigmas attached to our kind, as I’ve illustrated above. We try our best to blend in, to hide the unseen scars we bear on our bodies, all for the sake of being perceived as “normal.” So that we are not judged for the traits we have never chosen to have. Normality is the invisible mask many of us wear, drape ourselves in, to hide from those who cannot comprehend the conditions we find ourselves experiencing.

I apologize if I sound agitated in this post. I do have a personal stake in changing the perceptions of the lucky, but I wrote this as a defense; as a shield propped up for those who will have to play the same games I’m currently participating in. If readers did not take psychological-disorders seriously beforehand, I beg of you all to start turning your eyes to the right direction.

It has never been easy to be plagued by unknowable voices and urges in our minds. But it becomes impossible when the people closest to you, the strangers you wouldn’t normally interact with, the people supposed to help you, are all casting false judgments on your character. We are not weak. We are not some wrongness of nature. We are the unfortunate ones, nothing more and nothing less. The only difference we have with those who suffer from physiological illnesses, is that ours are blurred, demanding a stretch of the psyche to know them as parts of reality. Not mere fabrications of a spoiled mind.

I would love to be able to say that I no longer wear a mask of normality, yet I would find myself lying. I pretend to be just like everyone else, that I don’t contemplate hangings or poisonings every hour or so. But where I find myself in, cannot yet accept such truths. It is either too unpleasant, or incomprehensible to them that they would rather have the comfortable lies. Thus for now, here I am, speaking and acting like the average Joe when I know that I’m anything but. Like someone with rabies trying to hide the foams in his mouth.

For now, if you find yourself in a situation similar to mine’s, perhaps it would be best to adopt a similar stance: that of pretending to be normal. Change the misaligned wisdoms of those you can, but do not risk yourself if you cannot bear the repercussions. That being said, if help is available, grab it as quickly as possible. Do not convince yourself that you do not need any support, as you’d be making the same mistake that I did. One that resulted in a failed suicide attempt and a burning pile of wreckage on the side of the highway.

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