I recently bought a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘just shy, not antisocial’. This is brilliant, because it justifies my social ineptitude to whomever I happen to be talking to whilst saving the embarrassment of having to explain it aloud. I should have bought more than one so I could always have one clean and ready to put on in the face of contact with anyone other than the (unfortunate) people who already know me very well. Come to think of it, I should probably just get it tattooed on my forehead. But what I really want is some way of making people understand how I feel when I’m depressed. A t-shirt wouldn’t cut it; I’d need a whole wardrobe of them.
What I dream of is a big sign that would go on my head and describe my mental state to the people I meet; like a hospital clipboard, but with entries for whether I’d like a hug but don’t care enough about myself to ask for one, or whether I want to join in the conversation but think I’m too boring or actually just want to be left alone. Somehow, the formality of a billboard would make things seem less ridiculous (would you admit aloud to feeling so fragile that you nearly cried when the checkout girl said ‘have a nice day’, because you didn’t think you deserved one?) and then everyone would understand. Sadly I need my brain for almost everything, and so having depression can affect any part of my life. If I’d broken my arm I wouldn’t be able to swim or write or lift heavy objects with it; I’ve actually broken my brain, in a way, so I sometimes can’t do things which require self-esteem or energy or motivation. My sign would have a gauge for each of those as well as the need-a-hug light (which would be pretty much permanently on; I’m just like that) and maybe a few neon words describing how I was feeling and (if applicable) why.
Sometimes there isn’t a why – maybe on the back there would be a note saying ‘no, I don’t get it either’. It just gets so tiring trying to explain why sometimes I’m fine and other times I’m decidedly not. People with broken arms don’t have this problem (and they’re actually guaranteed to get better again), because either it’s broken or it’s not. That’s another difference between mental health issues and some physical ones: they come and go. I’d switch the sign off or take it down when things were going okay (which is often, for now) and only activate it when I needed to, so I could just be plain tired sometimes without needing to reassure anyone. I can see no flaws in this idea; I wonder why no one has thought of it before?