September Blog Post – The Language of our Narratives

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Blog Image September 2014 - Large TreeBlog Entry September 10th 2014

The Language of our Narratives by Barbara Whelan

A friend of mine recently got a diagnosis for his young son. He suffers from a little known syndrome. When my friend asked the consultant for an explanation, the consultant replied that all it describes is a cluster of symptoms and that the next step was to carry out further tests to see what was fuelling his son’s seizures.

What a good description that is of depression too. A cluster of symptoms. Loss of appetite, fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, poor concentration, low self-esteem. You know the list.

I often think that depression is like a variation on a theme of music – very similar but not quite the same. What is fuelling our depression is unique to each one of us. And the narrative for our depression calls for a language and a vocabulary that is helpful in articulating that unique experience.

Take diagnosis for example. Sometimes a diagnosis can be really helpful. It can ease the fear of the unknown, offer practical advice and a path to recovery – provided that it remains just that, a diagnosis and doesn’t become a label. I am not depression.

Or what about the word suffering? I was recently asked would I describe myself as someone who suffers from depression.I thought about it for a while and replied that in the past I had suffered from depression and that the word suffering really did describe what I was experiencing at that time. While I do not know what the future holds, I am now optimistic that I will continue to keep well. But at this moment I’m not suffering from depression. By contrast, the phrase I have a vulnerability to depression works for me. It acts as a gentle reminder that I need to work at keeping well and it seems to give me permission to take care of myself.

If I could ban one word from the English language it would be the word but as it is used to encourage us to be more positive. You know when you are having a tough day and someone says but the sun is shining, or, but you have just got a wedding invite. But, but, but…it just leaves me feeling that my experience has been denied and guilty that I can’t seem to count my blessings. So I use the word and a lot during difficult times, acknowledging a tough day and expanding the awareness of it to include some tiny pleasure I have also experienced, without any pressure to balance the scales or deny the darkness.

Are you taking things too personally is a question that sends me into a spiral of self-criticism. Like many, since I’ve come through depression things ‘get’ to me a little more easily than they used to and I know that objectively I do tend to take things too personally. So in the classic scenario where an acquaintance walks past without greeting us, when we start thinking that we must have done something to offend or that there is something wrong with us, we are advised to challenge that negative thinking and ask ourselves are we taking things too personally in this situation. But, (good-use-of-the-word-here), even though that all makes sense to me, it just doesn’t seem to help.

Understanding a bit more now about the wounds from which my own depression emanates, I find it more helpful to see the experience as having brushed against an old hurt. It’s just an awakening of an emotional memory from the past. Then I can see the experience for what it is and further, what I need to do. It’s a mindfulness bell and a call to healing.

And if I find that I have lost all space between my thoughts and feelings and that my negative thinking has started to become negative believing, then it’s time to let go of language for a while and slowly do some simple task like watering the plants, sweeping the floor or washing the dishes. Dropping under thinking and doing something slowly and with gentleness, little by little, the mind seems to follow suit.

And when all else fails I read again and again some wise words written by the Australian poet Les Murray:

“Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.”
and I smile…..

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