Naming and un-shaming

My automatic response to feeling depression creeping in, is retreat. Maybe not physical retreat, but hiding nonetheless. Slap on the pretend smile, the brave face. Start telling people I’m just a bit tired, or have a bit of a cold. Bluff, deny, lie outright if necessary. I know it isn’t just me. I know the time to worry most about my depressed friends is when they go quiet, or seem uncharacteristically jolly. This is the ailment that does not want to speak its name.

Some of it is social, and a simple consequence of the stigma associated with mental poor health. Every depressed person out there has heard the ‘pull yourself together, get over it, stop making such a fuss and being such a wimp,’ lines. Even if you’ve not had one slapped in your face, you know it happens, and you’d probably rather avoid the humiliation. The people in your life who do not understand are also a consideration. The ones who think they should be able to rescue you and get ever more resentful when they can’t. The ones who interpret it as emotional blackmail, manipulation, laziness, unreasonableness and a hundred other things you don’t want to be. For these reasons too, it can seem preferable to hide it away. Lying about it beats the hell out of dealing with the consequences of other people’s misinformed, prejudiced, mistrustful responses. When you’re down, those are a lot like being kicked.

Hiding it is the loneliest path. We step into the dark alone, wrapping layers of lies around us so that what torment occurs on the inside isn’t visible. Of course sometimes this goes wrong, and something leaches out, and that exposure can be frightening. I don’t want anyone to see, or know. I want to hide my shame, my misery, my lost, comfortless confusion. I don’t want to burden anyone with getting close enough to find they can’t rescue me.

In the silence of that isolation, there are no voices to argue with whatever is causing the pain. There is no countering the futility, the despair, the dying dreams and lost direction. There is no antidote to exhaustion and feeling useless. There is no help, once you’ve carefully shut everyone out. But you tell yourself you are protecting them. You are keeping them safe from all the horrors inside you, from all your many failings and shortcomings. I suspect this is why a lot of people end up killing themselves. Not as an act of careless, selfish cruelty, but in a desperate bid to protect the world from themselves. And trust me, when you reach the point of thinking the best thing you can give is your absence, it is a truly awful place.

I’m more likely to blog about it on the downslope or in the aftermath, than when depression really has its teeth in me. Exposure, during the worst of it, is profoundly uncomfortable. It would be terrible if people thought I was attention seeking, or feeling sorry for myself… right? Shameful failings in an adult, reasons for scorn and derision. Except… except… how do you heal a wound you do not acknowledge? How do you pull a barb from your flesh without admitting it exists and hurts and needs removing? How do you make necessary changes in your life if you cannot own the problem?

The culture that is so keen to stifle the cries of those it wounds, is a culture that does not want to admit that it is harming a hell of a lot of people right now. Mental ill health is at epidemic proportions. So long as it stays a private shame, hidden away out of sight, we can all collectively keep saying that things are ok really and there is no big problem. We can pretend that our civilization does not put barbs into bodies on a daily basis. By this means, we can have business as usual.

For these reasons, I keep pushing against how I feel about my own dysfunction. I am a symptom of a sick society, not a solitary failure but a consequence of an unsustainable approach to living.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Naming and un-shaming

  • derynguest

    It is profoundly helpful that you write about this.

  • Catriona McDonald

    Thank you for dragging the monster out from under the bed. Its hold begins to lessen when we can finally see it.

  • bish

    Everyone knows names have power. ‘Speak his name and he will appear’… but also and importantly in this context, ‘I name you and know who you are’. Hauling depression into the light and telling it you know its power, sometimes depletes it. Or focuses you on the pain it causes. Knowing which happens when is the hard but essential bit. Be well, always.

  • john

    Hi Nimue,

    I hope this reply is not out of context.

    I am a student…..a very mature one of Five Elemental Acupuncture, this branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine aims at balancing a person on the emotional level I feel that this might help anyone who is suffering with depression or any other emotional issue.
    Also if anyone is having suicidal ideation please seek help, the Samaritans perhaps. You are not a burdon on people and believe me you are not protecting them by going, the grief to the people left behind hurts like nothing else. I know.
    Again I hope this is not out of context or too heavy a reply.

    Always like reading your posts.


    John /|\

    • Nimue Brown

      These are very welcome thoughts, and thank you, I’d very much agree that talking saves lives and there’s always more that should be covered in a blog than writing something reasonably digestible will permit – so, I welcome wider thoughts coming in via the comments, and there is no ‘too heavy’ here.

  • Hev

    Thank you for writing this. I think society has got a lot better about understanding mental health issues but there is still such a long way to go. We definitely should be talking about it more in an open and honest way, and not treating it like a shameful secret or some kind of failure.

  • Kaylee

    I know exactly how that feels, both the wanting to kill yourself because you no longer want to be a burden on others and having to hide that you are feeling that way. I wonder if our society were willing to be more open and supportive about all mental illnesses, they would be easier to deal with. It helps to know others have been there, but with the stigma attached to depression, it is hard to even look for help.

    • Nimue Brown

      I have no doubt that where it feels safe to speak, people are less likely to be killed by this hideous illness. When we are able to speak, we are able to address underlying causes – many of which are not just personal issues. A kinder, more tolerant, more gently paced culture with more room for community and good things, would go a long way towards turning a lot of lives around, I am certain. There are a lot of online resources, which can be accessed more privately.

  • Caroline

    Thank you. Me too.

    I get a seasonal component that seems to be especially harsh/bleak/parasitical this year. I sort of hope that I am not the only one and wish that I was at the same time.

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