Mental Illness

What We Talk About When We Talk About “It”

“True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.” -David Foster Wallace

Confronting depression is an exercise in will, isolation and forgiveness for oneself. It is a quiet, frustrating experience that creeps up slowly and quietly, no real timeframe to pinpoint why or how it happens. The thing with no name – it’s walking in circles testing the limits of ones own fragility and direction. “It” can be a number of things, whether brought on by stress, circumstance or the decline in one’s mental health.

What happens when you catch yourself in this place? When your state of mind is just there and soaking up all the creeping negativities, the self-hate, the paranoia, and the overwhelming fog that affects the simple everyday. When those depressions and anxieties creep up slowly from the back of your brain and slowly begin whispering into your ear the same old propaganda that you fight so hard against ““ how do you cope?

The one thing that becomes the most obvious about these issues is the language around it. I have struggled to talk about my own depression because I fear the reactions ““ “How could you feel this way? You have everything going for you! What do you have to be sad about? Don’t you think that’s selfish?”

Yes, I agree with all those statements, which makes me much less willing to talk about my state of being. The very act of opening up my refrigerator and seeing the food I have is concrete evidence of how lucky I really am ““ how privileged I am. But it also perpetuates the hate cycle that myself and others are already struggling with, as well as the willingness to talk about it.

No one wants to be pegged as ungrateful or unaware of the great privileges they have. But language like this is one of the further ways we downplay any sort of mental struggle. I think it has a lot to do with our still archaic but deeply cultural imbedded idea of, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” an opinion which has been applied to everything from poverty to racism and has proven relatively false in the larger scheme of things for most.

Taylor Mali – Depression Too Is A Type Of Fire

Putting a name on the problem ““ being able to acknowledge, is always the first step. Ruts are very different animals from depression, but in my experience, my rut will often lead me back into dealing with episodes of full-blown depression. Ruts can be solved often with time or change, but depression is its own different beast. My own quiet and secretive bouts have been marked by disordered eating, cutting ““ any lack of autonomy I’d often deny my own body. A lot of it had to do with how I coped with things when I was much younger, but a lot of it also had to do with the fact that it was easier to deal with whatever was going on in my head by these measures. Now that I am older and can see more of the forest for the trees, I can recognize what is self-destructive behavior, though my ability to effectively communicate the other, more constructive stuff is still in constant progress. Sometimes it can take me a while to recognize the red flag thoughts I have, the ones that can send me spiraling.

Treating yourself is the second- what do you need to deal with your depression?  Where is the best source for you to go to learn to manage, to learn to be at peace with yourself? What environments impact you ?  Does medication work? Can you do this on your own or do you need more support? What is the best way for you to help yourself ““ to keep “it” from taking over?

So we do what we can as people ““ we go to therapy, we talk to friends, we take our meds and we hope that each day can be a little bit more “okay” than the last. Because with depression, the thing that matters most is that we can engage in the things we know make us whole and not be defined by “it,” as if “it,” like any other stereotype thrown into the wind with causality, would forever damn us to some idea of “crazy.”

I chip away at it day by day and sometimes I have my days where it’s nothing but depression engulfing my every thought. The tiniest things can set me off and for the rest of my day I am struggling with normalcies that send me into a spiral of self doubt and hate. And other days I am okay and I can clearly see everything around me. I don’t look at it as, “And ta-dah! You’re better!” or a thing that is with me always on my shoulders. It’s a day-by-day thing, even a moment-to-moment thing.  We don’t need to be saved.  We need people to understand.

How do we better talk about this? How do we get others to engage in this conversation without it affecting our own progress, especially when those around us may not always understand it? Moreover, how do we erase the taboo of mental illness, whether diagnosed or not?

12 replies on “What We Talk About When We Talk About “It””

Yah. When I was first diagnosed a few years ago I was actually really excited, because I finally understood why I’d felt so muted all my life. In this excitement, I told some friends. Everyone talked about how they were depressed this one time in high school or college or whatever. I tried to explain, “Right. Now imagine having that feeling all the time, even in your happiest, most complete moments in life.” This made no sense to them, so I gave up.
I don’t tell anyone anymore. There is a stigma, and it changes the way people act around you. People tiptoe around you or ask about it randomly in a hushed voice, like someone has just died. And OK, it’s a part of me, I probably won’t ever ditch it entirely, but it doesn’t define me.
A psychiatrist I went to for a time said that it’s destructive to talk too much about it with others; it makes everything all about The Cloud, and not about who you are, yourself.
That felt sort of isolating, but I think it is true. Talking about it too much with Mr. Blue means that he writes off any mood as being from The Cloud, when sometimes no, I’m just annoyed with him for real.
Eh. It’s exhausting to talk about it because it is always the same, for me, and what more is there to say? I get bored thinking about it myself. I know why I’m feeling a certain way, and I know what I need to do. Some days, I can’t do much because of it, and I accept that. Whatever I do now, though, I keep as private rituals– meds, meditation, everything. Because ultimately it’s a battle I have to fight on my own.

Thanks for this. I find the good ways to lift a stigma is for (1) Persons to experience something w/o feeling that something is wrong with them and (2) To have a loved one open up to you about the issue and you realize that these things can happen to anyone.So this is a good first step, talking about it in a non-negative light.

I struggle with … something, and self-medicate bc I dont trust drugs or doctors. Try to arm myself with facts and passion when someone tries to stigmatize me. So many famous, great people had some sort of mental “illness.” So, I take it as a stamp of genius, I can access parts of my brain, u only wish, and I can come out with a unique perspective. I’m sure in ancient times, these feelings served a purpose, eh.

I don’t know what will remove the stigma of depression, and other mental illnesses as “character flaws”. However I believe that the more science learns about the mind, “brain chemistry”, physiology or whatever body sciences are related then the language will evolve and attitudes will adjust. The more we shift towards addressing it as disease the more we will move away from the clutching pearls of judgey sneers from uneducated people. Think how we’ve come to address cancer and addictions. This attitude is what I cling to, what keeps me going. Being clinical.

It gets tiring. Taking care of myself and others, and then having to educate those around me who don’t know.

The one that used to kill me was when Mr.B would ask “Why?” I’d try to tell him I was depressed and we would end up in these weird cyclical conversations with me trying to make him understand that depression was both the cause and the effect.

The cause, the effect, the symptoms, the disease, the question, and the answer. It’s just … there. Underneath everything else. People who havn’t lived it sometimes don’t understand. It’s your baseline, just as much as your blood pressure or resting heart rate.

I stopped talking about my depression when someone said, about something completely unrelated to me, “I don’t want to hear the same thing over and over again about X’s problems”.

Unfortunately depression is THE problem. Sure it might have different triggers, deeper spirals, or other manifestations, but on the whole it’s the problem.

And sadly society doesn’t make it easy to talk about it in public OR seek treatment for it in the manner each of us individually need to.

I have no answers to the questions you pose…but the same questions rattle around in my head on a regular basis.

YES! When I am in a bad spiral and caught in the “devil’s snare” of deep depression that’s all that comes out of my mouth. And no one wants to hear that. Why would they?

I’ve found that those who have been there are quiet, reserved, patient, and give the best advice. I don’t share with real life people. I’m too much to handle when I’m in the midst of a bad spell.

What I do know is that when I’m in a good spell I take the time to educate and enlighten allies, those who are able to learn. Don’t waste time on closed-minded jerks. And I’m getting better at using key phrases to let those allies know when I’m beginning to spiral down a rabbit hole of despair.

In the end it’s always up to me to do the work. To pull myself out, to teach others. Afterall it’s my disease, my body, my mind, my soul. I’ve been accused of being “fucking selfish” and in a way that’s true. That’s what depression is, the absolute and total chaos of being lost inside one’s ill mind.

In an effort to understand my friends’ depression, I turned, as I usually do, to books. Recommended by a depressed friend who admitted to me that she couldn’t bring herself to read it, Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon was a magnificent, compassionate, sweeping look at depression. Depression in history, medicine, literature, causes, effects, pharmacology, therapy–his approach is so wide that he offers an “in” for almost any open mindset. His own depression makes Solomon’s voice empathetic as well as analytical, and I learned a lot from this. The link takes you to a free chapter (PDF download)–you can see if it speaks to you.

Personally, I find it helpful to remember that illnesses come in all shapes and sizes: why should we think of depression as if mental wellness were a binary state of Well:Ill? With physical illness, aren’t there minor aches and pains, colds and allergies as well as cancer, disabilities, trauma? We don’t attach stigma to a “slight cough”–mild illnesses are normal and inevitable. Can we not allow ourselves the same broadened definition of normalcy for our mental states that we do for our purely physical ones?

You ask some wonderful questions for which I don’t know the answers. I know that, for myself, I fear I have often engaged in reinforcing the taboo of my own mental illnesses by my shame and reluctance to talk about them. Someone once cited a statistic at me that suggested that all people at one point or another in their lives suffer from some degree or another of mental illness. I wonder if our own shame and distaste for what we see in ourselves perpetuates the myth that lack of mental illness is more “normal” than the presence of them. Or is it our own hopeless wandering feelings, the lost-in-the-woods, unsure of what to do, that perpetuates the taboo? I’m not sure, but I’ll be chewing on this for a while.

Leave a Reply