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Lessons from Depression Part 2: Talk about it.

As I look back over our experience of living with and alongside depression – our breed of Black Dog – I am musing on what would have made a difference.

I have learned to understand and accept myself and my needs more.

Talk about depression, get it out of the dark.

Talk about depression, get it out of the dark.

MB (My Beloved as he is referred to in my blog) and I have grown in our understanding of what is important, and what the barriers to communication are between us.

But if I am brutally honest (and this seems to be the trend….) I could have gained more peace quicker had I stopped and paid attention to my feelings, and been willing to be more vulnerable.

I am stubborn, strong willed and very independent.

I am very much a ‘just get on with it’ sort of person, and in part, this has been learned through years of – as I perceived it – having no other choice.

And the out working of this? “I’m fine”.

Oh, I hear a sharp intake of breath. We have all done it – “How are you?” comes the question. And even though we have inner turmoil, fears, anxiety, anger churning our innards into twisted knots, we hear our own voice

I’m fine”

Now of course, there are times when this is the most appropriate answer – we all have layers of friendships and social interactions, like concentric circles. It is often not practical or sensible to share our deepest secrets with those in the outermost circles. We would never get anywhere or get anything done. And there does have to be a measure of trust and wisdom in sharing personal confidences, especially if someone else is involved.

But the first and most important lesson from depression I learned the long, hard way. I am going to say this really loudly because it is crucial:

It is important to talk about depression, to tell someone that things are not fine.

In recent weeks, I have heard stories direct and indirect of many who have suffered from depression and its’ wide-reaching effects in silence. Men especially seem pathologically reluctant to talk about it, and the cost to their mental health, and that of their nearest-and-dearest is very high.

What have we learned about the importance of talking about MB’s depression, and how would we approach this now?

I would say to him, and learn to do so without anger or frustration –

  • It is an illness
  • It is not your fault, and there is no shame involved
  • It does not mean you are a failure, incapable or incompetent
  • The real you is still in there somewhere, and I still believe in and want to know that person
  • You may feel that it defines you now, but it is possible to get help and for things to be better
  • You are not coping with or enjoying life, and it is hard for me to see that, and the effect on me is hard too. I care about you and want you to enjoy life more, so please can we get help for you together?

And what would I say to myself?

  • Talking about MB’s depression and its impact on me to some trusted people in my inner circle is essential for my own sanity
  • this is not being disloyal as it is possible to do this without disrespecting him
  • Not talking about it and repressing how I am feeling (“I’m fine”) will lead to me becoming resentful and angry, just a few in a plethora of emotions experienced in the course of dealing with this illness. These feelings are not going to go away, but will build up like compound interest, until one day under pressure, there is a huge eruption. And of course, this is more likely to lead to me showing disloyalty and disrespect to MB as I rage and rant.
  • Being vulnerable allows people in, enables others to provide help and support, and often allows others to share their un-fine-ness too

For years I felt I had no other choice than to ‘just get on with it’ and be ‘fine’ because we did not talk about our Black Dog. The very few people who did know were wonderful but even with them, I wanted to give the impression that I was coping. Ha.

And of course I now see that the cost of taking this approach for years becomes very high – it became my default reaction, and therefore I found it hard to actually be vulnerable with anyone, especially MB. Fear of being disloyal, fear of being hurt or rejected, fear of opening up how I really felt inside but not having those fears heard and respected.

And so sometimes I would come across as completely sorted, or intimidating, hugely independent, or unreachable.

So, lessons from depression number 1 – talk about what is going on with someone you trust, be it a friend or professional. It is ok to not be fine. It is ok to ask for help.

And no matter how isolated or lonely you feel, it isn’t just you. Talk about depression and start to undo the power of the Black Dog.

Inspired? Encouraged? Get in touch!

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