My Big, Fat Gypsy Mental Illness
Many of you will have heard the phrase, "people will think this" or "people will think that" at some point in your life. It is annoying as hell to sit and listen to, we can all agree that. Especially when you're told by society to "be yourself", but they actually mean, "make sure you don't do anything that will make people talk about you, cool? COOL". It is very confusing.
As an Irish Traveller, this saying is an ethos, or a way of a life. I also firmly believe that this saying is the foundation for my depression. Growing up as someone who never cared what people thought, I was forced to think about other people's opinions before I did absolutely anything. This included enjoying school, (I had to sneak into school if I wanted to go), what music I liked to listen, (my mum had my little idiot brother smash a guitar given to me by a teacher because she caught me listening to Nirvana's 'Nevermind’, or the 'devil's noise' as she liked put it). I had to make sure that my family's reputation wasn't affected, like all other Traveller and Gypsy families, and using a mop as a guitar wasn't really the way to go about doing that.
For example, a man isn't allowed to hoover, clean or do anything that a woman 'should do'. Ridiculous isn't it? But also true. Freddie Mercury's fault, that. Now I have to sit in this mess, leave the smelly nappy on the baby until the wife gets home from work and does it all, or I can don the leather miniskirt, and tidy up LIKE A MAN. Because we all know that's the uniform that us men have to wear if we're happy to clean up. Sorry pops, I couldn't live like that at all.
If you watched the earlier episodes of 'Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', you would have seen where I lived and (kind of) met my family. A lot of the content on the show wasn't inaccurate, it was displayed out of context, but a lot of it was true. It's a man's world here, money, family and reputation are the only things that matter. Sounds like the bloody 'Godfather' doesn't it? It isn't too far off in all honesty.
My community is far from all 'doom and gloom', we do have the BEST parties, have an incredible sense of humour and our dress sense is second to none (that last one is a bare-faced lie). What I do treasure about my family is how close knit we are.
You will always have family around if you need them, and even if you don't. The experiences of being a part of a group that is marginalised as we are, yet strong in the face of it is a strength that I hope my son will be proud of. I just hope that the future becomes more accepting of the nomadic culture.
When it comes to mental health in the GTR (Gypsy, Traveller & Romani) community, the major problem is this. In a patriarchal community, where strength, brawn and reputation are valued more than openness and acceptance, we are seeing so many GTR members choosing not to talk about their mental health because they don't want to be seen as 'weak' or broken'.
Speaking recently to someone from the community about mental health, there is still a belief that those addicted to drink or drugs become depressed, and there is no thought towards them using drink and drugs as method of escapism. I've never smoked and had my first drink at 22, and drink probably once every few months - give me a nice cup of tea instead.
For members of the GTR community, depression is a very 'grey area' to speak about due to the rising numbers in suicides, which is six times higher than the general population, according to the Pavee Point 'National Substance Misuse Strategy'. WHY IS IT A 'GREY AREA'?!
If those people felt that they could have access professional help regarding their depression, outcomes may (or may not, still) have been different. Unfortunately, my community have a while to go before they learn acceptance of mental health issues. Include how LGBT Travellers or Gypsies must feel, and you can understand how a person can feel like they're drowning and torturing themselves internally.
I am fortunate to have various methods of managing my depression. After nearly ten years, I have found the medication that suits me perfectly, my mentality towards mental health is that is can affect my life in various ways, but I do not allow it to define me as a person.
I've also continued to ignore living to appease other people's expectations, as people should. I found that being open about my depression has helped me accept it, manage it and continue being an idiot and as long as I, and my family, are happy, I aim to stay that way for years to come.
I'm also lucky that I have a supportive wife who allows me to escape from the stresses of hoping the puppy hasn't eaten another pooey nappy and if he has, trying to outrun the idiot before he starts licking you. I've just put myself off my brew. Time to make another.
A brilliantly open and funny blog from Martin into a culture that many of us know so little about. Has it opened your eyes to the GTR community and how it manages mental health? If you're one of them and want to share your own experiences like Martin has, PLEASE just let us know.