Why we won’t talk about depression (Part 2)

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In my second post on ‘Why we won’t talk’ I continue to look at the obstacles to sharing the pain of depression with others. It is increasingly plain to me as I write that this kind of sharing is a risky and difficult thing. I think those of us who manage it are extremely brave and the courage we are learning is just the thing we need to live life more fully and more humanely. We are privileged to find people we can share our stories with and they are privileged  to listen, kind souls and companions, making sure we don’t have to do our recovering alone.

So, here are some more reasons why we find it hard to talk.

1. I will be labelled a bad parent/Christian/person

I‘d like to write a reassurance that no-one will think that you are a bad parent or a bad person when you tell them how life has become but unfortunately I can’t do that. Some people will instantly fire up on red alert mode, about the terrible impact this will have on your kids and your marriage and your career. These people have no room for personal weakness and they desperately need you to deal with the anomaly so they can go back to their safe and secure views of how things should be. If you don’t deal with your anomaly immediately they have no other option but to label you as wrong.

But remember, your own healing and recovery is much more important than the views of such people and you will find many human souls who listen and support without judging. Every time we refuse to be part of the demonisation of mental illness we show ourselves a kindness and create an opportunity for others to come clean and talk about what they really feel. It takes courage to act in the face of other people’s negative opinions of you but if you can it will become a significant part of your recovery. It’s worth deciding early on that you will listen to the voices that affirm rather than the ones that tear you down. My own view is that the process of depression has made me a better mother, a better wife, a better friend and a better human.

2. There’s no room for this in the worldview that we share

A worldview is the the pattern of thinking and understanding that we use to navigate life. A world view encompasses our entire belief system including how to behave, how to feel, how to be a good person and what makes life worth living.

Once you have your world view you can use it to navigate life: to make sense of the situations you find yourself in and to make decisions about how to respond to situations that occur. Most of us will join up with other people who share our world view to create a ‘tribe’ ; these are our people and we learn to show a certain loyalty to them and expect a certain loyalty back from them.

However, sometimes events occur in life that challenge the world view we hold. These can be acute crises or problems that emerge over time but either way we find that they can not adequately be accommodated in our existing worldview. We may feel that our task is to squeeze our new experience into the old worldview or we may feel we need to do the hard work of adjusting our worldview to accommodate our changing lives. This calls for a certain type of flexibility that we may not be familiar with. It will probably demands a painful change in the way we see ourselves or a change in our relationship with others in our ‘tribe’. Either way such change is at the best unsettling and at the worst extremely disturbing. It often puts us in a place of extreme internal conflict.

Some of us inherited a very strong and particular worldview when we became Christians. We may over time have had experiences that don’t fit well in the Christian worldview we inherited but that doesn’t mean that Christian faith is faulty or inadequate. It doesn’t mean that we don’t belong there any more or that we are in ‘sin’. It could be that we have adopted a deficient or warped view by accident and that we need to re-address our ideas about who God is and His relationship with us. This isn’t apostate or heretical, it is part of the process of growing into maturity.

It can be difficult talking to people from your ‘tribe’ if you feel you are challenging views you previously had in common. It can also be difficult speaking to people outside of your ‘tribe’ because of a sense of disloyalty or betrayal. The disadvantages of sharing your pain with someone from your ‘tribe’ could be that they do not have a place in their thinking to lodge your experience. The advantage is that you give them an opportunity to work with you to adjust ways of living and thinking to a more healthy reality together. I am constantly surprised by how open people are to listen to what I am saying even when it seems to be completely outside of their ways of living life. This makes the risk worthwhile.

3. I poured out my heart and someone let me down

You should certainly take care who you share with, but that understood, sharing will always involve a degree of risk. To manage that risk there are a few sensible checks you can activate in the conversations you have.

Firstly, do not share your depression with someone who affirms your shame. If you are telling someone how guilty and embarrassed you feel and they say, “That’s terrible, how embarrassing, no wonder you feels so bad!” you’re talking to the wrong person. Secondly, avoid the person whose only response is “Poor you!”. Don’t share heart with someone who feels sorry for you and beyond that has nothing else to offer. A person who only feels sorry for you is not giving full dignity to the precious things you are telling them and they are not empowering you to use the conversation to get well and move on. Thirdly, don’t share heart with someone who diminishes your pain. This is the person who seems to be saying, “Surely it wasn’t that bad, we all feel a bit glum sometimes.” This person is probably about to tell you to snap out of it and that is not a conversation you need to have. Finally, this kind of sharing should not be a competition. Avoid the person who engages in a kind of one up man-ship, identifying with what you say then producing a much more severe problem that they themselves are going through, “You think that’s bad you should hear what happened to me …”

Every time you share something that really matters to you there is a chance that your pearls will end up before swine. Tread carefully and at the point where you feel it isn’t going well, just stop. Find someone else to share your story with. Even if you have been disappointed and let down in the past, keep hope and work towards finding some people who you can share with in  safety and work towards being the kind of person that others are comfortable talking to.

You can read the first part of this blog post ‘Why we won’t talk about depression’ here and a previous post ‘When we won’t talk about depression’ here.

The advice in point three, ‘I poured my heart out and someone let me down’ is from Brene Brown. She writes on the delicate subjects of vulnerability, courage, authenticity, empathy and shame and aims to help people find the courage they need to live their lives more fully.

You can read her blog at brenebrown.com or I especially recommend her TED talk and interviews with Oprah.

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