Male depression has become one of performance artist Bryony Kimming’s specialist subjects. She’d like you to take a closer look at the men that surround you.
Now no one likes people who are gushy in love, or those who want to smear their cummy joy all up in the lenses of your glasses, but that is NOT what this is about. So stick with me. This is an article about bravery, about the huge stigma still attached to mental health, particularly around men, and about what it means to be a human being in this crazy world.
My partner Tim and I just got engaged in Rome.
Tim just left his decent job in advertising to make a show with his performance artist girlfriend.
Tim has severe clinical depression and acute anxiety.
Eight years ago my partner Tim began to feel a gentle sadness creeping into his peripheries. Twenty three and carefree he put it down to a come down, or a bad day in his lowly call centre job. But it kept growing. Anger began: a spiraling list of repeated questions lodged itself in his brain that he couldn’t quite stop, a loss of appetite appeared, he felt exhausted all the time. Again, as he was unaware of the connection of these things, he buried it deep. When quizzed now he said he would NEVER have thought of going to the doctor or turning to a friend. These, my friends, were the early signs of clinical depression, as intangible as they are diverse. By ignoring these early signs he was able to slip into a very severe episode. He then kept it a secret for over seven years.
According to Time To Change, poor mental health will effect one in four of us. Depression, the one I know most about, leads very directly and very clearly to suicide, not for everyone but for MANY. So at its worst clinical depression is a killer. It has many disparate symptoms; from indecisiveness to aching bones from headaches to preoccupations with death. Yet although it is so common in our society, nine out of 10 people with mental health problems still experience stigma and discrimination (Time To Change).
Think of depression as a cancer. A cancer of the thoughts. That makes it easier to imagine sometimes for me. People, for some reason, find it hard to grasp that the brain can go “wrong”. Now imagine that cancer metastasizing into new and unexpected brain trickery just as you get your head round it, tripping you up at every turn. It’s the stuff of nightmares isn’t it? A few times since this first dark time Tim has literally been on the brink of death from this illness. My bright, sparky, funny, confident, healthy husband-to-be finds himself a teary, muddled, suicidal mess.
And… Let me just repeat again… HE HID IT!
From his work, from his best friends, from every girlfriend before me, from himself a lot of the time. He took his pills, he dealt with the slumps and he tried to forget he was ill. He tried to come off tablets, he fell back into the blackness, he went back on them again, repeat, repeat. All on his own. He says now he felt like it made him less of a man. It was only me finding his pills after he moved in to my flat and recognising them from a family member’s medication that allowed me to crawl under that stigma armour he wore so well and try my best to support him as he gently and slowly took it off.
The reason I am writing this down is because over the past year my lovely Tim has come to the realisation that being silent about mental health makes the problem a LOT worse. That by NOT talking about it his own mental health could decline, but perhaps even more importantly by NOT talking about it he denies others an education from his experience. Once he began talking to people, we were both amazed by how many others in our circles were also silently affected. Sometimes the conversations that he has had over the past year have come at such important moments I can safely say he may have saved a life.
Deciding to make a show together has two benefits for us. I can be an artist who spends most of her life on the road and be WITH my partner, not away from him wondering if his brain is ok, AND we get to do our bit to smash the stigma around mental health, something we are both very passionate about. Our show is about Tim’s experiences of clinical depression. It is about how we deal with it as a couple. It is about how gender is a spectrum and bringing up boys to not cry helps no one.
Tim told me recently that he feels like if us making our show saves just one person before they reach rock bottom then all the soul searching, learning dance routines and being a poor artist will be worth it. But, I think he doesn’t understand the amazing potential of the work and him, as a non-performer, being on the stage. When a man like Tim (if we are stereotyping here, which is what most people are doing every second of their lives so run with it) gets on a stage and tells 250 strangers that he cries into his pillow some days, it unlocks something. A taboo explodes and in its wake the pathway of possibility appears. All shiny with potential for new ways of thinking. It allows us to ask: what if we lived in a world where nine out of 10 people WEREN’T discriminated against for having poorly thoughts? What if we lived in a world where ALL news stories surrounding mental health WEREN’T about murderous escaped psychotic mental patients? What if we lived in a world where it wasn’t ONLY 1.76% of public health budgets being spent on mental wellbeing?
So for me I guess Love is…
I hope this article makes a few people look at the men that surround them and wonder if they are keeping a secret? Or a few people to talk about their experience to do their own bit to smash the stigma. I also hope you will come and see our show next summer. I am sure I will be writing about it here again.
If you want to help, share, learn more OR indeed feel inclined to actually give us money! This is a kickstarter we are running: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/156400599/fake-it-til-you-make-it-a-show-in-the-uk-and-austr
If you feel that depression may be affecting your life or the life of someone around you THIS has been very helpful for us: http://www.patient.co.uk/health/depression-leaflet
If you feel like you need someone to talk to and that you are currently in crisis we have found Mind very brilliant. Click here and select “I need urgent help” button http://www.mind.org.uk
Performance Artist. Activist. Writer. Feminist. Comedian. Auntie. Person. Currently: pop star for tweens, collector of pubes and sayer of sooths.