This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
Most people who experience depression believe themselves to be “bad”. Maybe not all the time, but certainly when they’re depressed. For some it is so pervasive they feel themselves to be evil, bad to the core, even that others would be better off without them.
People often think of depression as sadness that can’t be shaken, misery that never ends. But depression is much more than just an emotion, even though it can look like sadness, it is much more complicated than that.
So how does “I’m sad” become “I’m bad”?
None of us are born with set ideas about ourselves, but we are all born with emotions that are inextricably part of us. Our feelings are “us”. How we feel about things is by its very nature, personal.
Yet, we all have different levels of comfort with expressions of sadness, pain and vulnerability. As as a culture, New Zealander’s are a stoic bunch. Remember Sir John Kirwan’s breakthrough book was called “All Blacks Don’t Cry”.
While we all experience emotions, and we all experience sadness, we aren’t born knowing what to do when we feel that way, or how to express it. In fact we can often come away from our childhoods, from our schools, from our sports teams, with a very clear idea that crying is not what we do when we’re sad, that it is in fact, bad.
Get over it.
Tough it out
Walk it off
It’ll be fine
You’re worrying over nothing
You’re making too much of it
You must’ve got the wrong end of the stick
How many times have you heard these words? How many times have you said these words?
These are the accidental invalidations, the messages we send each other every day, the messages we tell our children, that if they hear enough, from enough people, say that their emotions are wrong.
Most of us don’t mean to, most people simply repeat what they know. Most parents parent how they were parented.
And we’re pretty good at sending this “get over it” message as Kiwis. So good at it our suicide rate is world leading, and our rates of depression and anxiety are climbing.
When we hear over and over again our sadness is wrong, it doesn’t make the sadness go away, it makes us believe there is something wrong with us for feeling that way.
Our feelings are us, and when we feel sad is bad, we believe we are bad. And if we believe we are bad enough, then we can also come to believe that the world is better off without us.
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