The Things We Can’t Speak Of

Shame can stop us from talking about things. So can guilt. For people like me, who like to talk about almost everything, this can feel awful. Others wouldn’t dream of speaking about things close to their hearts, or buried down deep. Shame is not the same as guilt. [A very good book – John Piper’s Battling Unbelief – helped me understand the difference.] Misplaced shame is feeling bad about something when we are not actually at fault. Depression is a prime example. I know I initially felt ashamed to be diagnosed with it.

I’ve never been one to shy away from talking…about pretty much anything. I’m a legend at oversharing, faux pas, feet-in-my-mouth, socially awkward conversations. Sex? Politics? Religion? Yes, I’ll talk about all three, at once if you like, with people I have only just met. Well, I’m not quite that bad. But I’m close to it.

I’ve been upfront about my depression from the time I came to terms with my diagnosis. (I distinctly remember not being able to ring my parents when it first became a possibility that I had Post-Natal Depression (PND). Instead I sent a text message calling it ‘mild PND’. Bollocks. It wasn’t mild. But I didn’t want to scare them, and I didn’t want to be ‘weak’.) Once I became sure of the diagnosis, and understood it a bit better, I was unsurprised to hear that many people don’t talk about their depression. That was red-rag-to-a-bull for me, and I promptly decided I wasn’t going to hide it, minimise it, shy away from talking about it. This presented other issues of course. I do need to be a little bit careful who I unburden myself to. Even writing this blog gives me pause at times. Because depression can be depressing! And awkward. Mental illnesses in general are less well understood by the general populace (as compared with physical conditions). They are more confusing for sufferers too. Because mental illnesses change perception, even of themselves.

I’m emerging from the ‘mud’ these days. I have a bit more experience, and a bit more distance, and consequently clarity. That’s why I can write about it. If you had asked me to write this while I was in the thick of it, you would not have wanted to read it. I kept journals. Their raw contents are not fit for publication. I do intend to share some contents. But not yet. To be honest, they are scary to read. They are not me. They are another me.

Which brings us right back to the quandary of sharing. What to share, how to do it, and with whom? I don’t have all the answers. I do know that talking about depression is important. And I do know that others have found it helpful to read about it or to talk about it with fellow sufferers.

There is a growing feeling that the media also needs to play a part in removing the stigma of mental illness. There is a chance that media laws may soon change to allow suicides to be reported as such. Currently, the media refrains from reporting suicide, ostensibly for fear that it will encourage more people to attempt it. But this silence is not actually helping. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for young men in Australia.

A new men’s mental health campaign has recently started up here ( I’m still a fence-sitter about its approach (it won’t suit many men). But I applaud the message: men need to unburden themselves of stress and despair rather than bottling it up until they can no longer stand it.

I’ve been reading a very graphic, moving blog lately which chronicles one young Aussie mum’s story. Lori’s husband committed suicide after suffering a violent psychosis and she is left with their two very young children. She is an advocate of talking. If you are feeling brave, her blog is here. It is not for the faint-hearted. This woman has guts. What she has been through is hideous, and I’m amazed that she can write about it. But she is helping others by doing so. Her message is: speak.

So I do. So we should. Obviously not out of our experience-zone, but definitely, at times, out of our comfort zones. Because when it comes to depression, there is no sense in blaming, or feeling shame. It is what it is. It is complex, and different for everyone, and it is personal. But recovery can be a community effort. And it starts with knowledge, awareness, and talking.


7 thoughts on “The Things We Can’t Speak Of

  1. Hi Sally I am a 45 year old male that has been to the bottom and am still climbing back out. Talking is very much an individual by individual thing. I myself find I can talk quite openly to people who I know have had contact or experience with mental illness, but will not broach the subject otherwise.I also will more likely talk to a female,females naturally have a more understanding and sympathetic nature and are able to converse about it, rather than maybe say "she'll be right mate it will all work out".Imagine working yourself up to confiding in a mate and they just brush it off because they don't know how to deal with you, you would never speak up again.

  2. Hey Sal. Good post. Re the suicide thing, if we could just move away from "he/she committed suicide" to, if we must, "he/she suicided" or, if we really are up to facing the facts "he/she killed him/self", then I reckon attitudes might start to shift. "Committed" is surely from the time when suicide was a crime – cf "committed homicide/murder/some other offence against the law". It's anachronistic and loaded with judgement and stigma.

  3. Thanks for your comments.Tony, I know that it can be deadly to a friendship to raise the issue of mental illness. But it can also be deadly not to. I think it is a matter of, as you say, each individual working out their best approach. Jill, I'm not sure I agree with the connections you make. There are other connotations to the word 'committed', and I don't see it as a term that is loaded with judgement. To be honest, I'd never made the connection with crime before. For some people, 'he/she killed him/herself' is just as awful as any other way of expressing what has happened. I don't know. I'll be thinking about this for some time to come.

  4. Hi Sally and Jill,I recently attended a course on Suicide prevention and the presenters were very much of the opinion that the phrase "committed suicide" should be avoided for the reasons Jill stated. It takes a while to get used to and I am still in the throws of having to stop myself saying it and have to think carefully when talking to someone about it. I am more inclined to ask if they are thinking of killing themselves just to avoid getting it wrong. Nice message though Sal.Peter

  5. I think I have two half thoughts about this:Shame and talking about stuff.I appreciate you talking about your journey because it minimises unhealthy and maybe sometimes critical assumptions from my end – if you weren't so open about the ugly side of depression we would have taken a lot longer to realise one of our close friends was unknowingly battling with it (and he may not have gone to a doctor and who knows what might have happened down the track).No, it's not easy to talk about things of which you are ashamed of – I know of 'friends' who took over 2 years to let family and friends know about their fertility issues. Obviously some people aren't going to 'get it' but finding those gems of people who do is like a foothold out of that pit and when you have those days where it all gets to be a bit much, having someone around who knows what’s going on is amazingly helpful.Suicide.When I was in grade 10 (~ age 15) our head prefect took his own life, no one knew why but it was widely known that the role of head prefect was stressful and he was mercilessly bullied by some people. I saw him clear out his locker the day he died and remarked that I needed to do the same… (hindsight hurts). He isn't the only one I know who has suicided, but he was the first. I distinctly remember being indignant and disappointed after scouring the daily newspaper for days following his death that it wasn’t reported – I didn’t realise then that suicide was such a taboo. It was a death, people were sad, why the stigma?Now I’m a bit older and wiser I understand that reporting suicide is very tricky, but part of me still remembers that frustrated 15 year old wanting to know why her friend’s death wasn’t acknowledged. No descriptors (‘committed suicide,’ ‘took their life,’ ‘killed themselves.’) make the reality any easier to take, and that’s because in reality suicide is awful. But please, let’s stop saying ‘police have ruled out suspicious circumstances.’Right, so that essay…

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