The Secrets We Keep in our Head and Everywhere Else
Shortly after I was diagnosed by depression and anxiety and prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft in the fall of 2014, my mother paid an impromptu visit to Seattle amid her busy work and home life. I had not wanted her to come, or to explain the often unexplainable. I did not know how to tell her about the disease other than that I felt chronic sadness. I tried to explain to her that I lacked serotonin, that there was chemical imbalance inside my body. One of the first thing she said of course, was that I needed to find God.
I was never, and currently am not, interested in finding God or praying the mental illness away. My mother went home after a week, after she met the ex-boyfriend who I never told her had convinced me to take antidepressants in the first place. I took Zoloft— and later Gabapentin too—until the following summer when I stopped seeing my psychiatrist. I still believe that my parents never thought that my sickness was real, or worthy of the thousands of U.S. dollars they spent on pills and visits to a psychiatrist. I still believe that very few people in our family and their friend groups know about this. I wonder where they found strength while I was dealing with this. If I asked now they would probably say: “God.”
I was privileged that I had access to medical resources to treat my depression and anxiety in what considered to be a progressive part of the U.S. But still, every day, I would feel like I was holding in a secret. Because the mainstream society in whichever country you are, under capitalism, expects people to be “productive” and get shit done no matter what. Mental illness, by default, is seen as a weakness and an inconvenience. Just last week my roommates called me out because I had not been cleaning around our shared apartment. Never mind that for the previous couple of months I had considered getting out of bed an achievement because I felt the depression creeping back in through the cracks on my bones.
It’s not surprising yet still unbelievably sickening, then, that about 18,000 people in Indonesia with mental illness are currently illegally shackled or locked up in “healing centers” despite the 2014 Mental Health Act. According to a recent report by the Human Rights Watch, Indonesia has only 600 to 800 psychiatrists serving a population of almost 260 million. Some of the 48 mental hospitals—most of them located in only four provinces out of 34—have overcrowding and hygiene problems. More often than not, these facilities and “healing centers” do not heal and do more damage to patients instead.
I want to live in a place where mental illness is not seen as a crime. If we truly believe in community-based values, it does not make sense to stigmatize, punish, or leave behind people when they need their community the most.
“Iya, Uwa sampai pergi ke psikolog gitu dek,” my mother whispered to me about my aunt the last time I was visiting Jakarta, even though we were the only people in the car.
Keep it a secret, pray to God, or get locked up. None of these options will do.