“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”
I don’t remember much about The Usual Suspects. It’s a long time since I watched it, but the quote above has always stuck in my head. It seems very appropriate as a way of describing why depression is so powerful. Substitute ‘the Devil’ for ‘depression’ and you’ll see what I mean. I’m talking about a shadowy villain, enigmatic but deadly.
I often see the statistic that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Not all of those people will experience depression – there are plenty of other mental health problems after all – but it’s one of the most common. Chances are that if you haven’t experienced depression yourself, someone you know has, even if they haven’t told you about it.
Despite the huge number of people who live with depression, there are many people, including some medical professionals, who question its existence. It’s not uncommon to hear of people being told to "pull themselves together"; to have a little more confidence in themselves; to "snap out of it" and "stop feeling sorry for themselves". Other people have it worse. What have they got to be depressed about?
There’s a perception that depression is something that happens to weak people. And in a world that so values ‘strength’, nobody wants to be seen as weak.
I think back to the school playground – boys boasting about how strong they are, trying to establish superiority over each other, engaged in a battle of macho one-upmanship. Nobody talks about their feelings. Nobody wants to be seen crying. Nobody wants to show fear, or weakness, because it will be pounced upon and exploited.
I think that carries on into our workplaces and adult lives, where we ‘soldier on’, trying to ‘go the extra mile’, desperately trying to prove how strong we all are. Does it prove how strong we are? No, it doesn’t. Not to me, anyway.
I’ve done the soldiering on thing. I’ve gone so many extra miles my milometer has cracked. I’ve kept going and kept going and kept going because – hey, look world – I can handle anything because I’m STRONG.
Now I see strength differently.
The previous form of ‘strong’ left me stressed out, exhausted, anxious and afraid. Depression, that thing that convinces the world it doesn’t exist, does exist. It’s real and it’s dangerous. It chews up our self-esteem, it rots our confidence, it saps our energy and strangles our enthusiasm. It keeps us awake at night and drags us zombie-like through the day.
And from its hiding place in the dark recesses of our brains, it whispers threats to us so we daren’t speak its name. It intimidates us into going along with its lie. We become silent accomplices in depression’s reign of terror.
Well balls to you, depression. I know you exist. I know you’re real. I’ve lived with you, and now I don’t just speak your name, I tell other people about you. I expose you for the bully that you are, and that’s what I now recognise as my strength.
We can weaken depression’s power by accepting we need help to cope with it, by getting the help we need, and by not being afraid to show that we’re only human. Let depression do the lying – we can gain strength by being honest with ourselves and each other.
Are you ready to punch the air as much as we were after reading Paul's blog! Do you recognise the depression that he talks about? How do you look at? Let us know in the comments below.