Labeling Depression is a Good Thing
Lately depression has been swirling around my hemisphere, prickling my urge to write. I’ve heard more than one story of suicide — people losing the battle and deciding it really is just too much — for instance. It’s interesting how the universe works because when I find myself at a distance from advocating, I seem to get all kinds of reminders that my voice is still important.
Today I want to talk about the stigma of depression as a label. I want to talk about how there is the idea that abounds that it’s something to “be delivered from”. Or that it’s some type of false characterization that someone puts on you.
I get that this is supposed to be empowering. It’s supposed to feel like “yes, depression isn’t something that I have to own. Depression isn’t something that has to define me”.
But there is a real danger that teeters on the edge of that thinking. I know this because I recognized the familiar despair pit off in the distance as one more person said to me (paraphrased) “See Leah, you’ve been delivered! You don’t have to carry that label anymore.”
It’s a fine line of explanation and understanding and so I’m going to do my best to really make it clear. What that line of thinking makes me feel like is that my entire experience of being a person living and struggling to triumph over depression was not real. That it was in some way something that I was less for, as though I was allowing myself to be duped and defined by something else. Like I was giving power to something else; like I was weak.
And yes, in a way those things are true. But in a bigger way those things are not true at all. Depression isn’t like receiving a diagnosis of a condition and then allowing yourself to be overcome by what you’ve allowed your fear of that condition to be — like someone receiving a cancer diagnosis and passing away days later when days before they were seemingly the perfect picture of health.
It’s not this at all.
A diagnosis of depression in many ways is life saving. It’s a label that brings a glimmer of understanding to a horribly lonely, frustrating, desperate struggle. It’s finally *a reason* that gives an explanation as to why it’s been so hard for you and it can be a guidepost lighting up the path out of that dark, difficult place.
Finally admitting to myself that maybe it wasn’t just that I was too lazy or too unfocused or just plain cursed and maybe it was just that I had this condition to work with and pay attention to made all the difference in the world. Knowing that maybe it was something else and maybe it wasn’t just me is what gave me any hope that there was a way out of the fight to stay afloat.
Because before that admittance, I thought that *I* could just figure it out. That if I read enough books, pushed myself hard enough, tried hard enough, worked hard enough, thought about it long enough or just something, I could snap out of it. I could push the needle. And I could break the spell on my life. I thought that it was all on me.
And approaching life that way when you are a person that has depression like mine simply doesn’t work. I have proof :). Approaching life from the perspective that “I have a condition that operates against me and so I must be diligent to manage that” does work.
It works because I don’t blame myself. I don’t think it’s my fault that I didn’t get it together today. Now instead, I think, ok I obviously didn’t really employ the best tools today. I’m paying attention and I’ll use different tools or just even remember to use my tools tomorrow.
The tools are the key. It’s *not* that I’m tragically flawed and that nothing will ever work for me and that my life is doomed. It’s simply a matter of finding the right tools and getting better and better at using them.
*That* perspective is empowering. From *that* place, you can make real progress. When I finally let myself come to that place, that’s when those horribly low pits of despair began to fill a little and the downward spiral began to slow down. This is what has gotten me here today to a place where it’s not at all perfect, but it’s so much better. This is why I can set goals and actually believe that I will achieve them. This is where my absolute faith in myself that I’ll eventually get where I want to be comes from. The biggest change is that I’m not just hoping and wishing and praying that I’m delivered from this terrible hold on my life anymore. I *know* now how to deliver myself. I know now that it’s not *me*. It’s something to manage, just like you manage a cold or sore muscles or a headache. You find what works and you use it.
Find Leah Patterson online at her favorite hangouts below and be sure to join her growing Facebook Group MOVE MAVENS for confident, inspired women who sparkle inside out (and the ones on their way there)!
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on April 7, 2017.