I was home alone last night channel surfing, and I stumbled onto a movie called The Yellow Wallpaper. Intrigued as to whether it was about the short story written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, I decided to check it out.
The short story is quite famous, and some even say it paved the way for early feminist literature in the late 1800s. The story is memorable to me personally, because I did a monologue from it for a performance of literature course as an undergraduate. The story fascinated me, and I really got into my role as June. I found an antique nightgown at the Thrift Shop and made my hair all disheveled like I thought it would look after spending day after day after day locked in a bedroom. I practiced staring at the imaginary wallpaper as I rehearsed my lines over and over. I am proud to report that I earned an A+ for my interpretation. I, of course, I had no idea that my professional career later in life would be empowering young girls to be true to themselves, and that includes asking for help when it is needed.
We have come a long way in our attitudes towards mental health since the late 1800s, but I am afraid there is still work to be done. June was clearly suffering from postpartum depression, and the “treatment” of resting to cure her “nervousness,” if anything, made her condition worse. She was a talented writer but was discouraged from writing about her feelings. Instead she was to focus only on resting to get better. She asked her husband (who was also a physician) repeatedly if he saw any patients with her symptoms. June wanted to know what was wrong with her and how to get better, but doctors were unaware of mental illness and the sometimes deadly implications of not getting treatment.
Depression is an ugly beast that can creep up on you unsuspectingly. While I never suffered from postpartum depression, I have battled it a few times in my life. Even with all of the treatment options I had available to me, it was a dark hole that tried to suck me in, more than once. I hope that in my lifetime we can feel comfortable with EVERYONE, men and women, saying “we are not ok and need help.” There should be no shame associated with depression, but for some it still exists. In honor of June, let us change that.