Thursday, 4 April 2013

Why I Do Not Like Telling People I Am Depressed

A Note on Depression

I see it is with you as with the birches:
I am not to speak to you
in the personal way.
Louise Glück, The Wild Iris

A comprehensive list of the reasons I dislike talking about my depression would be far too long, so I'll pare down to the most relevant.

1. This one only applies to blogging about depression. I was (am) hesitant to discuss my depression on this blog because I do not want to offend any IRL friends who might find out about my depression from this blog rather than from me. I also do not want anyone to feel offended because I am willing to write about this stuff when I'm not willing to talk about it. But I think both concerns are faulty because a. I cannot be expected to notify absolutely everybody about my depression and b. if I feel more comfortable writing about depression than talking about it, than that's how it's going to have to go. I don't need to justify my hesitation to discuss it with people in person. But I'm also probably not going to talk about feelings on this blog very much (see #2).

2. I never really want to talk about feelings anyway. By this I do not mean that I am actively unwilling to talk about them, but instead that I have just never felt the need to talk about feelings. Contrary to what some people might think, I am emotionally aware, both of myself and others. I admit my emotions to myself and take my emotions into account when making decisions. But I've never really felt like talking about them. I don't find talking about my own feelings very interesting and I usually assume that other people don't want to talk about my feelings, either. Maybe some of my disinclination is a gender role I'm performing, sure. But some of it is also that I don't equate self-expression with emotional expression. The self I want to express, generally, is the one composed of my decisions, not the one composed of my impulses. So when I want to reveal myself to people, I talk to them about ideas or books, I do thoughtful things, I help them and ask for help, or I do stuff with them. Emotions rarely have anything to do with it, at least not explicitly. But this means that I do not have much of a habit of talking about emotions, and since emotions are bound up with my illness, I can hardly talk about one without at least implying the other.

3. I am worried what people will think of me once they learn I have depression. I do not want people to think I'm weak, of course. That's not unusual. But I am weak, and I'm trying to admit that. What's even more galling than the idea that people might think I am weak is that people might fail to think of me complexly. I am probably being uncharitable, but I keep imagining that people have this complex, robust idea of who I am, yet as soon as they find out that I have depression they will start imagining that depression is the most important thing there is about me. They'll attribute all of my behaviour to depression. Then they'll probably not want to spend time with me because when they see me, all they'll see is depression. Who wants to hang out with depression? I know this is unfair, but becoming two-dimensional to other people still scares me, even more than appearing weak.

4. Of course, if we're being honest, most of my life and all of my decisions right now are impacted by my depression. In that sense I am kind of two-dimensional. So if we're being really honest, I'm afraid that I'll see myself as weak, as two-dimensional, as entirely defined by my misery, if I tell other people that I have depression. I do not want to see myself that way. It's easier to pretend that I'm OK if people don't treat me like I'm not OK (or if I'm not imagining that people are treating me like I'm not OK).

5. Weakness is a kind of power, and I don't want to wield that power over other people. I do not want people to feel obligated to treat me with particular kindness. Telling people I have depression feels like a kind of imposition. People might not be honest with me because they do not want to hurt my feelings. People might resent me because they feel like they have to do things for me they would not otherwise do. The kind of power weakness would give me is not a kind of power I am interested in. Of course weakness gives me other powers than just obligation: it could give me the opportunity to affiliate with people. That's a kind of power. But I can't access the second kind of power when I'm much too afraid of the damage I could accidentally to do my relationships with the first kind of power.

6. I don't know how to talk about depression! I am getting better at it, but in general I haven't figured out how much information is too much information. I don't want to make people uncomfortable; I don't want to violate social norms.

But you know what? I do want to violate social norms. I want to lessen the stigma of mental illness. I want it to be OK to not be OK. So I am going to try to talk about having depression more often. Or at least write about it.

1 comment:

S. Siriwardena said...

Christian H,
This is a really interesting post. I recognise all of these worries and have struggled with each one of them in the past. Truth be told, some of them--like 4 and 5--still concern me. I've found, though, that most of the people I've met have either (a) had a healthier outlook on my depression than I have, (b) been willing to learn that I'm not defined by depression, or (c) not been important enough in my life for me to worry that neither (a) nor (b) was true of them.
As to how to talk about depression, I'm pretty sure there isn't any one way to do it! Do what you're comfortable with, and make up the 'how' as you go. I get the feeling that's what most of us are doing. :)

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