(Artwork by Zoe Shier)
Not only the title of an excellent Britney Spears track that awoke many a teen sexuality but also seems to be the sort of goddamn soundtrack to my life whenever I need to start talking about my health.
Starting with a taxi driver giving me a lift to the hospital. I’m not wearing clothes that would indicate I work for the NHS. I see him eyeing me every once in a while trying to figure out am I a patient, a visitor or staff. He leaves sentences hanging, for me to grab a hold of and satisfy his curiosity.
I don’t. My money looks the same in each of the three scenarios.
If it comes up that I spent a few months in hospital, I get the look again. Up and down. No obvious physical clues. I don’t give the information up voluntarily. My dad always told me to only answer the question that’s asked. The only way they’ll know is by asking.
I avoid any situation where it might come to that. I know it’s never just the one question. People seem to have this weird idea that they are somehow entitled to know personal information about me, a complete stranger, and in the worst case scenario, have an opinion about it.
I practise a strict P or P policy, standing for ‘Personal or Professional.’ Unless you have either experience regarding mental health, I don’t want to hear your fucking opinion. Still for whatever reason people seem more than keen to provide. Maybe it’s just the depression doing its tricks, but for whatever reason I just can’t see myself caring enough to form an opinion about another person’s illness.
Because it’s not the just one question, it never is. They want more. They want details, reasons, highlighting and underlining. During a taxi ride or a perfectly pleasant exchange that’s got nothing to do with my mental health.
I’m already used to it as a foreigner. People tend to ask me where my accent is from at some point. I know that this stems from good things, genuine interest towards your fellow human being. Over time, my attitude has changed though. I don’t hand-feed information anymore. I only tell what’s asked.
Like for example:
“Are you an American?”
“Oh, you sound like one.”
“So I’ve been told.”
Awkward silence. For the other person, that is. I continued what I was doing quite happily.
“You didn’t tell him where you where from?” my friend laughed.
“He didn’t ask.”
“Well obviously he was waiting for you to tell him.”
“Like I give a fuck. If he just expects me to tell without asking he’ll be waiting for a long time.”
Anyone who hasn’t been in a similar situation has a hard time understanding, but these are actually incredibly one-sided exchanges. It will never be just the one question, it snowballs on into this whole life chronicle. The script is so familiar that I know the next question, without fail, is:
“How you ended up here then?”
Then I tell about my education.
“How you ended up in (whichever the place I live at the time) then?”
I tell more about my life.
And so on and so on.
But I get nothing in return. Never mind that these conversations stem from good intentions. The road to Hell is layered with someone’s good intentions. At the end of the day I basically lay my life for free to this complete stranger, at best defending myself while the other person gives nowt. ‘Why did you come here then, I thought that Finland had a good education?’
Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme, gimme, gimme more, gimme, gimme!
At the end of the exchange this person knows things about me, while I still know nothing about them. ‘You’re from Coventry? How utterly fascinating! How did you end up here?‘ Who cares if they forget it the moment we go our separate ways. Knowledge is power. The power balance has been tilted for this person’s favour by no other grace than their curiosity.
After having this conversation enough times I’ve turned off the faucet for the simple reason that I don’t owe anyone anything. If someone wants to know something they have to ask, and also be prepared for the possibility that I don’t want to give an answer.
The same thing with mental health now.
On the plane back home from visiting my parents I was reading a magazine with an interview of an artist called Katariina Souri. The interview was about her art, where she gets her inspiration, that sort of thing. Therefore the only logical topic for her to discuss all of a sudden is the ‘over-medication’ of the society, especially when it comes to mental health.
‘The breakages in life should be experienced as they are. Medications like antidepressants and sleeping tablets disturb brain’s natural functions”, Ms Souri explains with an enthusiastic smile on her face.
First of all, I would love to ask her what she considers to be her worst ‘breakage in life.’ My money is on the time she broke a nail and her caramel latte was mixed up with a regular one on the same day. If that is the case, all the power to her for powering through such travesty au naturel.
I know I’m talking about someone who I’ve never met, but as this person is comfortable to draw conclusions about every person ever, I’m happy to return the favour. Also, I’m pretty sure if things got hard enough, she would change her mind. It’s like those first-time mums who act all high and mighty about pain relief and end up crying for epidural. Don’t get snooty about things you know fuckall about.
The second of all, a word about Ms Souri. Before her artistic career she was a nude model. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but maybe my lack of experience as either a nude model or an artist makes it a bit difficult for me to understand which one of these areas of expertise features an in-depth medical training into neuro-chemistry.
I’ve made my stand clear about people who have an opinion of other people’s antidepressants in “Don’t take antidepressants!” but just to alliterate, none of your business.
Soz Britney, they want more but I won’t give them more. I’ll give them just the amount I’m comfortable with.
PS. Ms Souri, if you happen to be reading this, kindly go fuck yourself with your easel.