In the first session after my recent participation in the student class, my therapist paid me a compliment on that. He said he could see a huge difference between the way I carried myself in April and November respectively. And then:
“I think it would look pretty good when filmed, too.”
I didn’t know what to make of this comment, assuming he was talking about having a camera roll in another, upcoming student class:
“You think? I don’t know – and can’t really tell; it’s not like I’d ever watch that anyway.” (We’ve had discussions in the past about whether I wanted to see footage from the early sessions, which were all filmed. I always refused.)
“We are planning a featurette for [news show on TV] next spring and I could imagine you making an appearance as a patient.”
I was rather dumbstruck after that and don’t quite remember what my response was, something very non-committal in any case. We dropped the topic afterwards and it was only after a night’s sleep and some serious thinking that I sent my therapist the following reply via email:
“After giving the TV featurette you mentioned yesterday a lot of thought, I came to the following conclusion: should you really do this and by that time still be interested in having me in it, I would participate.
My biggest question was whether I’d be willing to have relatives (likely), neighbours (possible) and fellow uni students (unlikely) recognize me in the feature and asking questions about it. The result is that I am willing to accept that.”
And he emailed back:
“Thank you. In such a featurette, the main focus is on the treatment method and on what you learned through it. It’s great that you are going to be a part of it!”
I know the news show he was talking about very well; it’s on every day except for Sundays, in the early evening. Each region within the federal state has their own version, where they focus on what is going on in that particular area. It’s certainly not nationwide. Once per week they have reserved broadcasting space where they highlight a medical topic. One week it may be the latest development in terms of laser surgery for cataracts, the next week the specific problems of teenagers with diabetes mellitus, and after that it might be migraines or heartburn or coronary heart disease or hearing aids or dentures etc. They tend to focus on health problems which are common among the general demographic here in Germany and on treatment methods available in the area, including mental health issues, and one of the episodes planned for next spring is going to be about chronic depression and CBASP.
Generally speaking, the filming process shouldn’t be much more difficult than talking in front of the student class. It’s going to be a little different, but it does not spark any more anxiety in me than being in a presentation in front of an audience I can actually see.
However, since the exchange of emails with my therapist, I had time for contemplation and realized that the underlying issue is not so much going public, but rather relinquishing control over who knows and who doesn’t. Right now, I recall exactly whom I told about the depression and psychotherapy, and I have a pretty good idea of who told somebody else. In total, it should be about 25 people who are in on it, give or take a few. Once I appear on TV – with my real name, my face clearly visible, my voice saying the words – it will be impossible to tell who has and who hasn’t seen the feature.
For people who suffer from anxiety, it is very important to be in control of problematic situations, because that is what keeps the anxiety at bay. If I decide who is being informed or not, I also control for whom I’ll be vulnerable and who is excluded from knowing that “secret”.
There has been a similar situation in my life before: when I was in my early twenties and had to decide whether I wanted to come out of the closet or not regarding my sexual orientation. Before I came out, if I got into an argument with someone or somebody hurt my feelings, it comforted me to have a secret. They did not really know me; there was a part of me hidden from them which they could not reach, which they could not hurt. With the depression, it is the same mechanism at work.
Coming to this conclusion doesn’t change my position. I said I’d do it, and I will, but it’s always better to be clear about what is happening emotionally and to adjust one’s behaviour accordingly. I do not want my mood to tank afterwards because suddenly I feel exposed and vulnerable. And everything else is a challenge, I guess.