A matter of perspective

While studying psychology at university, I remember being fascinated with the story of a patient who had experienced trauma to the brain, and could only see half of the world.

There was nothing wrong with the patient’s eyesight, but his brain only processed half of the world that he was looking at. When he shaved, he would only shave half of his face, and when eating dinner, he would ignore half of it until someone rotated his plate 180 degrees. This type of brain disorder is is known as hemispatial neglect and is common in stroke patients (if you’re interested in learning more, the Atlantic has an easy-to-read article about one such patient).

I knew that the brain influences perception, but this case study was the strongest demonstration I’d seen of that in action. Even when sensory input is the same, individual differences in the brain give rise to vastly different interpretations of that stimuli, different views of the world.

This brings me to my ‘brain difference’.

I’ve experienced depression since my teenage years, though I only recognised it as such in my early twenties. Over time I’ve come to learn that depression will change the way that I view the world; I am acutely aware that my view isn’t necessarily what’s there.

“When the rest of the world seemed to be enjoying life, I could only see it through the black dog.” —image and quote from “I had a black dog” by Matthew Johnson

With my ‘depression goggles’, my loving and supportive spouse becomes someone who I am hurting, someone who would be better off without me. Normal feedback on a piece of work shows that I’m terrible at my job. The fact that I’m exhausted and can’t focus on anything (another symptom of depression) is very clear evidence that I’m lazy and worthless. And because I’m not 100% clear on my career path, I am never going to achieve anything because I obviously lack the drive and commitment to succeed.

I’ve lived with depression long enough to know when I’m seeing the world through grey tinted glasses, and acknowledging this negative view is half the battle. It’s hard work constantly having to challenge your own thoughts, to try and persuade yourself that the way you are currently viewing the world is not the way that it is. It’s exhausting, even more so when the black dog is telling you that there is no end in sight.

“Depression lies” — Jenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess)

At times like this, it’s crucial to acknowledge and identify your negative thoughts for what they are; to understand that you are seeing the world through the lens of your illness.

Finding an external perspective is one way to handle negative thoughts, to find someone who can reassure sure you that what you see isn’t what the rest of the world is seeing. There are also techniques that you can learn to use yourself, like those used in cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness practice, that can help you to acknowledge and identify your negative thoughts.

With time and work, you may find that your view begins to change for the better. There’s no ‘quick fix’ for depression but there are ways to live with it, and to ease the pain and distress that it causes.

Depression lies, and you are stronger than you know.

If you are struggling with depression or another mental health condition, you may find these resources useful:

I had a black dog — Matthew Johnstone (widely available eg Amazon UK, Amazon US and a video on YouTube narrated by Johnstone

Mind.org.uk —the website of a UK based charity who provide information and support for people living with a mental health condition

ADAA.org — the American Depression and Anxiety Association

Please contact a healthcare professional if you are struggling and if you are in crisis, know that there is always someone that you can reach out to:

UK and Ireland — Samaritans: 116 123 (UK) · 116 123 (ROI)

USA — The Lifeline: 1-800-237-8225

Wikipedia page with a list of global crisis help lines

This post was inspired by Support Driven’s 2017 writing challenge.

The prompt for this week is “Share your current view with us”

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