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Word For Wendesday - Weakness

Weakness

/week-nis/
noun
  1. the state or quality of being weak; lack of strength, firmness, vigour, or the like; feebleness.
  2. an inadequate or defective quality, as in a person's character; slight fault or defect.
  3. a self-indulgent liking or special fondness, as for a particular thing.
  4. an object of special desire; something very difficult to resist.
There is a particular quote, often ascribed to Freud, which goes:

Depression is not a sign of weakness - it is a sign that you were trying to be strong too long
It's a quote that, while I appreciate the sentiment, I often struggle with; not so much the part about it not being a sign of weakness, but the part about trying to be strong.

There is a stigma surrounding depression and mental health issues more generally. Things have improved in the three and a half decades during which I have lived with my condition, but there is still a long way to go.

It first manifested when I was around 15/16. I didn't know it was depression at the time, and I suspect any one encountering me just ascribed my sullen demeanour as being that of a typical moody teenager. The truth is, I would probably have agreed with them. I often felt "depressed" about things, but depression as an illness didn't even register on my radar; this was just something that was part of adolescence and had to be endured.

Partially, I was right. As I grew out of my teens and into my early twenties, the symptoms did lessen. The crucial part word is, however, "lessen", they did not go away. Again, however, I put it down to the multitude of stresses that young adults have; study pressures, relationship pressures, job pressures, money pressures, etc. Mental illness still was not part of my consciousness, and even when it was, it couldn't possibly apply to me.

As my twenties progressed, the dark moods grew progressively deeper, became more frequent and lasted longer. Something was amiss. I went to my GP on an unrelated matter and it was identified that I had hypothyroidism, which could affect my mood, so I waited to see what effect, if any, thyroxine would have. It may have been a placebo effect, but there was a brief improvement. It didn't last and the downward spiral and cycle of low mood began again and picked up pace once more.

I would wake with a sinking sense of dread. My waking hours were almost entirely spent feeling like I was holding back tears. My sleep quality was, at best, poor. At the age of 28, I received my first clinical diagnosis of depression and suddenly it all made sense.

Sex Bloggers for Mental Health - #SB4MHWhile having a diagnosis helped me understand what I was experiencing, and allowed me to seek treatment, it presented further problems. This was in the final years of the twentieth century; attitudes towards mental health issues were still almost entirely negative, and men's mental health wasn't a topic that anyone discussed. Men with such issues were simply wimps and needed to "pull themselves together", or "snap out of it", or, worst of all, "just fucking man up"; depression was simply another of these "new fangled, leftie, new-age excuses" and "real men" had no time for such things. Men didn't do counselling or take medication; men kept quiet, straightened their shoulders and just stoically got on with life. That being the case, that is exactly what I attempted to do (albeit I was "secretly" taking anti-depressants just to allow me the ability to fake a semblance of manly togetherness) and, ultimately, it would lead to my downfall.

I was 33 when it happened. My marriage was in its dying days, which may or may not have served as a trigger. Maybe it would have happened anyway. I'd been bottling my feelings up for over half a decade; only a very few close friends and family knew "my secret". Something had to give and eventually it did; spectacularly.

I didn't attempt suicide or anything that extreme; I just simply shut down. I burst into tears and almost literally didn't stop for several days. I stopped eating. I couldn't leave the house. I simply ceased functioning. My attempts to appear "strong" had been proven to be a sham.

Now this is where my problem with the above quote stems from. While up until the point of my breakdown, I may have given an appearance of strength, that is all that it was, an appearance. I wasn't being strong, in the same way that I wasn't being weak; I was simply being me and trying to cope. I was wearing a protective mask.

Depression is not a sign of weakness, but failing to acknowledge it and own it was. The biggest challenge was to accept that it was a part of who I am, but not to let it define me.

In the last decade and a half and more, I have learned to open up about my illness; I no longer hide it. I don't use it as an excuse, nor would I want anyone to treat me any differently or believe that I was using it as an excuse for anything. Having had to experience prejudice in the workplace in the aftermath of my breakdown, I now active challenge such attitudes where I encounter them.  Earlier this year I took part in the Miles For Mind challenge to raise awareness (and money) for mental health issues.

In coming to terms with and accepting my illness for what it is, I have had to grow and develop. I accept that there will always be bad days, I accept that I will almost never be free of its spectre, I have developed an understanding and recognition of the signs that I maybe need to take a bit more time for me and, most importantly of all, I have learned that there is no need to hide my "truth" from others.

To say it's been a very bumpy ride to get to this point would possible be the greatest exaggeration of not one, but two centuries. I still don't think I'm being strong, but I do now I'm not being weak. I also know that no matter how far I've come to get to where I am today, there will be many more twists, turns, unexpected potholes and mountains to climb in the future.

KW

Comments


  1. "Depression is not a sign of weakness, but failing to acknowledge it and own it was."

    This is so true. And by acknowledging you still have mountains to climb in the future is a sign of strength - IMO
    I admire how honest you always are about your depression - I really think mental health should be a focus with the world as it is now. So many more people will be suffering - trying to deal with their lives changing and what has gone on.
    May x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks May. It seems we are increasingly living in a world where we are being hard on each other and ourselves with only the slightest provocation. Preventing others from making my life difficult is, for the most part, outwith my control. What I can control is how I treat/react to others and how I treat myself. People who, justifiably, feel victimised all to often don't hold a mirror up to themselves to see the harm they do when they retaliate. As always, these things work both ways but sadly we tend only the slights others do is and not those we do together in response.

      I feel another controversial post brewing inside me...

      Delete

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