Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Tolling The Bell Jar*

There is much one hears of depression but, interesting in itself, very little on blogs or when in conversation with friends. It is a taboo topic. People will employ every form of euphemism to avoid the word. Two people famously spring to mind who were brave enough to admit to the condition; Winston Churchill with his black dog days, (note the euphemism) and Stephen Fry, who was brave enough to call his black dog by its correct name, bipolar, and explore it in detail.

I have been pondering on this question; why is the topic so forbidden? I believe that, in the first instance, it is seen by both parties, confest and confessor, as an admission of failure, a sin of omission; the weaker party having failed to live up to the current maxim of the necessity, in all circumstances, to be positive, to look on the bright side, to get a grip, to pull oneself together, et cetera ad nauseam.

Such circumlocutions, I believe, are haunted by fear. In the way that depression itself is irrational, the inability of people to discuss it is equally so. One may discuss any physical affliction without embarrassment but not the mental equivalent. The difference being, perhaps, that while a condition such as measles is recognised as being contagious and, therefore, comprehensible and so containable, the fear is that depression maybe similarly catching though in a totally incomprehensible fashion which is, hence, uncontrollable. Of the former, one can be objective, scientific even, of the latter, being as it is of the mind, one relapses into being subjective.

This attitude is reinforced by the experience of attending a gathering where one individual may lift the whole mood by the force of their personality. Or, the reverse, where a group can be cast into gloom by the presence of a single morose individual.

However, one must differentiate. A morose individual is precisely that; someone whose general cast leans towards the pessimistic, whereas a depressed individual is one who is suffering temporary, or chronic, acne of the intellect.

I mentioned in my last post that I have a dear friend who suffers from clinical depression, the fact is I have two. Both are wonderful individuals but you as a friend must accept there will be days when they will be overcome by their illness. All one can do is wait. They may or may not want your attention. They often do not want your solicitude. So you attend, remotely if needs be. They are invariably grateful, post the attack, that they you were hovering, so to speak, somewhere in the background. It gives them the freedom to speak, if they wish, of the place where they have just been. Their depression becomes a concrete object that can be discussed objectively, often humorously, which helps place their illness in the context of being an aberration, as any illness, and not a definition of them as individuals.

* A reference to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar


hesitant scribe said...

I don't comment often (if at all!) but I do 'lurk'. I have a couple of people close to me suffering from depression at the moment, and it is heartbreaking because it's so difficult to help. All I can do is listen and support them in the best way for each individual.

There's an award for you at my place, for your wonderful openness, honesty and fabulous art work.

Hesitant x

DOT said...

Thank you, Hesitant, for not being so. I believe, the more these issues are admitted to and discussed the less they will be feared. Mental illness is that, an illness.

Jon M said...

I suspect you are right that the less people talk about depression the more 'taboo' it becomes thus strengthening the illness.